Stanford chemistry Professor Carolyn Bertozzi has been jointly awarded the 2022 Wolf Prize in Chemistry for creating a new biochemical field of study and contributing to the understanding of the glycocalyx, a network of cellular molecules important to health and disease.

Carolyn Bertozzi (Image credit: L.A. Cicero)

Awarded since 1978, the Wolf Prize is an international award given by the Wolf Foundation. It recognizes “outstanding scientists and artists from around the world … for achievements in the interest of mankind and friendly relations among peoples.” Categories of the prize include medicine, agriculture, mathematics, chemistry, physics, painting and sculpting, music and architecture. The prize in each field consists of a certificate and a monetary award of $100,000.

“Carolyn Bertozzi is a unique figure in chemical science who works at the interface with biology. Her work defines chemical biology as a field,” said Steven Boxer, the Camille Dreyfus Professor of Chemistry and chair of the Department of Chemistry. “Her insights into the many roles of sugars on cell surfaces and the development of methods to modify them have transformed our understanding of cell biology. These insights are leading directly to novel therapeutic opportunities.”

The prize in chemistry for 2022 was awarded to three scientists – Bonnie L. Bassler, Bertozzi and Benjamin F. Cravatt III, BA/BS ’92 – for their work contributing to understanding how cells use chemistry to communicate, and for developing methods to examine the biological molecules used in the communication process.

“The three of us who share the prize this year share a passion for chemical biology, an important frontier in the chemical sciences that the Wolf Foundation has recognized with this award,” said Bertozzi, the Anne T. and Robert M. Bass Professor in the School of Humanities and Sciences and the Baker Family Director of Stanford ChEM-H.

Bertozzi founded the field of bioorthogonal chemistry, a term that refers to the chemical reactions scientists can perform within cells or organisms without interfering with the normal functions of the living things.

Using the methodologies she and others created, Bertozzi made great strides in understanding the glycocalyx, a dense network of sugar-coated molecules found on the surface of almost every cell, and its role in human health. “Her pioneering work has opened up basic drug discovery and therapeutic targets associated with cancer, inflammation, bacterial infection, tuberculosis and most recently COVID-19,” the Wolf Foundation said in a statement.

Bertozzi has been a professor at Stanford since 2015 and was among the first faculty in ChEM-H. She has also been a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator since 2000.

“Anyone who has had the pleasure to listen to a talk by Carolyn comes away inspired – she is easily the best speaker I have heard, even on the most complex aspects of glycobiology,” said Boxer. “And her role as a mentor, acknowledged this same week with the AAAS Lifetime Mentor Award, is equally important and will impact the careers and diversity of the next generation of young scientists.”

The Wolf Prize presentation will take place at a special ceremony in Israel’s Parliament, in Jerusalem.

“I am deeply honored to join the list of Wolf Prize recipients, many of whom are my scientific heroes and role models,” said Bertozzi.