Recognition for Pratt’s Work

Matthew Pratt receives major awards for his work finding clues to how cancer hijacks cell biology to thrive — and how it might be stopped.
ByRobert Perkins

Six years into his career at USC Dornsife, Matthew Pratt is on a roll — gaining attention for cutting-edge research aimed at understanding and stemming cancer.

Pratt’s research focuses on glycosylation, the modification of proteins by carbohydrates (i.e., sugars).

Within the past six months, Pratt has received:

The awards represent more than $1 million in encouragement and funding to support his ongoing efforts.

The assistant professor of chemistry is interested in how glycosylation is linked to glycolysis, the process that the body uses to break down sugars to create the fuel that keeps cells running. Cancer is able to co-opt glycosylation to stay alive and grow.

Cancer cells use glycolysis in a counterintuitive manner, in part because they live under extreme oxidative stress from having to grow so quickly, and yet it does not kill them.

Researchers have found that cancer cells are able to slow down glycosylation so that it yields more of the specific types of fuel that they need to survive. Further, they’re able to turn off the “self-destruct” switch that oxidative stress would otherwise activate, prolonging their lives.

Pratt studies the biochemical reactions behind these processes with an eye toward using or developing pharmaceuticals to interrupt them — taking the teeth out of cancer.

“We hope that by understanding how the well-established changes in cancer glycolysis are translated into protein glycosylation, we will both discover important fundamental biochemical mechanisms and identify places where we can potentially block this link for the development of therapeutics,” Pratt said.

Within the past six months, Pratt has received three high-profile awards — all three targeted at young researchers with promising careers.

“These young investigator awards are a measure of the excitement the research community has for the highly innovative approaches Pratt’s lab is taking — we are delighted that he is receiving this recognition,” said Stephen Bradforth, chair of the Department of Chemistry.