Dr. Lance Wells, Ph.D.

The University of Georgia
Recruited: 2012

Lance Wells is an analytical biochemist who conducts fundamental research on the molecular causes of disease.

Inside UGA's acclaimed Complex Carbohydrate Research Center, Wells and his team investigate how structural changes to proteins - the building blocks of the human body - play a role in diseases such as diabetes, cancer, Alzheimer's and congenital muscular dystrophy. By shedding light on the molecular mechanisms that cause these conditions, Wells' research could lead to better treatments.

Wells's work is especially focused on what happens when sugar molecules attach themselves to proteins; this process is called glycosylation and produces a structure called an O-glycan. Researchers have found that when glycosylation goes wrong, it creates abnormal or aberrant O-glycans that can contribute to a number of diseases.

The study of glycosylation and O-glycans is still fairly new, as the technological tools to investigate such detailed molecular structures have only existed for a few years. So it's important for researchers like Wells to conduct the fundamental investigations that will deepen understanding of the molecular mechanisms surrounding glycosylation and other changes to proteins.

In experimenting with O-glycans, Wells uses a mix of methods - some of them novel - from analytical biochemistry. He explores how the enzymes that surround the key proteins sense available nutrients, and whether the information those enzymes gather has an impact on cell signaling and behavior.

Wells has used this approach to elucidate molecular mechanisms underlying muscular dystrophy, and his research has revealed much about the disease. Additionally, he is leading an extensive study of how increased glycosylation of specific proteins can cause a person's cells to become insulin resistant, leading to type II diabetes.

Joining many other CCRC scientists, Wells has turned his attention to the fight against COVID-19 - notably, by helping to analyze glycosylated proteins that coat the surface of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. This work will help explain how the virus attaches to a host, which is essential information for developing a treatment or vaccine.