July 11, 2008

Oeltmann president-elect of ‘sweet’ society

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Thomas Oeltmann, Ph.D.

Oeltmann president-elect of ‘sweet’ society

Thomas Oeltmann, Ph.D., associate professor of Medicine and Biochemistry, has been elected president-elect of the Society for Glycobiology, an international association that brings together scientists studying “glycans” — sugars and sugar-containing molecules. He will serve as president in 2009.

“I felt really honored to be elected by my national and international peers,” Oeltmann said. “It's great to be back in a leadership position with the society, especially these days when glycobiology is making all kinds of advances.”

Sugars are central to cell function. They are attached to proteins and fats, usually on the outer cell surface where they play roles in cell-cell interactions, particularly in the immune system, nervous system, and during development. Glycans can also exist independently, as does the energy-storage molecule glycogen, and even DNA can be considered to be a complex glycan since sugars form its backbone.

Oeltmann's research focused on the glycobiology of human parasites, with particular attention to Trypanosoma cruzi, the cause of Chagas disease. Understanding the parasite's sugar pathways could shed light on how it gains entry into host cells and avoids destruction.

Oeltmann served on the board of directors and as secretary of the Society for Glycobiology from 1993-2006. He was also on the editorial board of the society's journal, Glycobiology, for 10 years.

At Vanderbilt, Oeltmann has been involved in a wide variety of student training activities. He served, with Oscar Crofford, M.D., as co-director of the Vanderbilt Diabetes Research and Training Center's Summer Research Program for 10 years, and he currently is the principal investigator of the Vanderbilt Minority Summer Research Program for undergraduates. He is a co-principal investigator of Vanderbilt's Initiative to Maximize Diversity program and of the Vanderbilt Diabetes Center's Summer Research Program for medical students.

As president-elect of the Society for Glycobiology this year, Oeltmann will chair the committee responsible for awarding up to $50,000 in travel grants to graduate students to attend the annual meeting.

“I think that's one of the best things we do — to support young scientists attending the national meeting where they can interact with established investigators,” Oeltmann said. “It keeps the society young and alive.”

Next year as president, Oeltmann will have responsibility for all organizational aspects — scientific program, social program, location and logistics — for the society's 2009 annual meeting.