Following steady advances in analytical technologies, our knowledge in glycomics is now increasing rapidly. Over the last decade, specific glycans have been described that are associated with a range of diseases, such as cancer and inflammation, with host–pathogen interactions and with various stages during stem cell development and differentiation. Simultaneously, deeper structural insight has been gained on glycosylated biopharmaceutical protein therapeutics manufactured in CHO (Chinese-hamster ovary) and other cell systems. This glycomic information is highly relevant for clinicians and biomanufacturing industries as a new class of glycobiomarkers emerges. However, current methods of glycoanalysis are primarily research tools and are not suitable for point-of-care on-site detection and analysis, or sensor devices. Lectin-based glycan detection provides the most promising approach to fill these gaps. However, the limited availability of lectins with high specificity and sensitivity for specific glycan motifs presents one of the main challenges in building reliable glycobiosensors. Recent reports have demonstrated the use of recombinant protein engineering, phage display and aptamer technologies in the production of lectin mimics, as well as the construction of biosensors that are capable of rapidly detecting glycan motifs at low levels in both a labelled and label-free manner. These are primarily proof-of-principle reports at this stage, but some of the approaches, either alone or in combination, will lead to functional glycobiosensors in the coming years which will be valuable tools for the clinical, biopharmaceutical and life science research communities.

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