The new, highly sensitive Luminex Multiplex Glycan Array enables the kind of volume needed to establish associations between antibody levels in our blood to these complex sugars, or glycans, and conditions from cancer to autoimmune disease and dementia. Researchers published the study report in the journal Nature Communications.

Sugar coating on our cells is hardly icing, rather essential to cell health and ours. It helps ensure that the proteins our cells make stay on task. It even helps our immune system recognize our cells as us.

But the sugar coating can also, often inexplicably, become a target for our immune system, which can dramatically alter cell function and lead to disease.

Like our cells, the beads in the new array are sugar coated. By exposing patient blood or serum to them, the scientists can see which glycans the patient is making antibodies against and how much they are making, looking for trends that could predict disease course, even potentially one day diagnose their disease.

In fact, the scientific team led by Dr. Jin-Xiong She has already used the array to identify a potential biomarker for high risk of ovarian cancer relapse following surgery and standard chemotherapy regimens.

The ability to quickly look at large numbers of patient samples and glycans is particularly important when data collection is still very much underway to see what it all means, She says.

Glycan antibodies already are routinely used to determine best matches for blood transfusions and organ transplants, but the ability to rapidly look at the response to hundreds of glycans at one time greatly broadens their diagnostic and prognostic potential, She says.

Current technology can expand to analyze 500 glycans in more than 1,000 samples daily, but they plan to double the glycan number with the new studies, She notes. The scientists also are beginning to make their array available to other investigators, including providing ready-made glycan beads for use in their labs.

Their first version of the array had magnetic beads coated with 184 different glycans that enabled the simultaneous, rapid analysis of 384 samples of patient blood or serum, says Purohit.

"This is really about predicting clinical outcome right after treatment for each patient," says She. "What we want to do is to identify a biomarker that can separate the patients who have a poor versus a good chance of survival."

Those identified with a poor prognosis could early on be considered for additional and/or more aggressive therapy rather than waiting for disease relapse, says She, who is talking with clinicians about clinical trials.

Glycans huge impact on wellness and disease has made glycoscience a major initiative of the NIH, which also supported the newly published study.

The sugar coating on our cells comes in part from foods we consume, like carbohydrates, but our body also makes some sugars that we may not get from our diet.