Carolyn Bertozzi, an internationally-renowned chemical biologist, has pioneered inventions with a wide range of biopharmaceutical applications throughout her career. While working to advance the diagnosis and treatment of diseases like cancer, arthritis and tuberculosis, she has also made significant advances manipulating the complicated processes that take place inside living human cells. For these game-changing innovations she has been awarded the prestigious $500,000 Lemelson-MIT Prize in 2010.
From an early age, Bertozzi found herself naturally enthralled by science. Her father, who taught physics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, encouraged her and her sisters to explore technological tools from his projects and demonstrations. This resulted in an enthusiasm for science that later fueled her drive to pursue the education necessary to become a leader in the field of biotechnology and a distinguished professor, first at the University of California, Berkeley and then at Stanford University.
While in graduate school, under the mentorship of advisor Mark Bednarski, Bertozzi discovered that different viruses could bind to sugars within the body, which ultimately propelled her into the field of glycobiology – or the biology of sugar molecules – later culminating in her understanding of how sugars mediate cell-to-cell communication. Bertozzi worked as a professor with a team of graduate students and post-doctoral fellows at the University of California, Berkeley, and at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, to understand this inter-cellular communication. Her research resulted in several innovations including the invention of the world’s first bioorthogonal chemical reactions, tools for labeling biomolecules in living cells that she hopes will one day lead to a non-invasive method for early detection of diseased tissue in the body.
Through related efforts, Bertozzi created a simple method for precision protein engineering with her development of genetically-encoded aldehyde tag technology. This technology has led to a new approach for the development of novel protein drugs, which could lead to improved treatments for patients. In 2008 Bertozzi and former graduate student David Rabuka founded Redwood Biosciences. With a business model focused on in-house product development and close collaboration with other biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies, Redwood Biosciences has provided Bertozzi with a vehicle to translate discoveries in the lab to new medicines.
A well-regarded mentor, Bertozzi has trained more than 130 students, including undergraduate, graduate and post-doctoral students. In her laboratory, she encourages students from various scientific backgrounds to explore their interests in a collaborative and supportive environment. She is dedicated to inspiring the next generation of scientists, and has been actively involved in both high school outreach programs and the K-12 science community, which she believes yields as much of a learning experience for her as for the students.
Bertozzi holds an AB in chemistry from Harvard University (1988) and a PhD in chemistry from University of California, Berkeley (1993). She also completed postdoctoral work at University of California, San Francisco in the field of cellular immunology prior to joining the University of California, Berkeley faculty in 1996.
She has received numerous honors and awards for her work, including a MacArthur Fellowship in 1999, the 2017 Arthur C. Cope Scholar Award, the T.Z. and Irmgard Chu Distinguished Professorship in Chemistry from UC Berkeley, and the 2020 Chemistry for the Future Solvay Prize. Bertozzi has been an Investigator of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute since 2000. She was also elected to the Institute of Medicine, the National Academy of Sciences, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the National Academy of Inventors.
Carolyn Bertozzi is the Anne T. and Robert M. Bass Professor in the School of Humanities and Sciences and Professor, by courtesy, of Radiology and of Chemical and Systems Biology at Stanford University. Bertozzi is also the Baker Family Co-Director of Stanford University’s Institute of Chemistry, Engineering and Medicine for Human Health (ChEM-H).