The complex arrangement of carbohydrates that cover the surface of cells is known to play a key role in gene activation and cell-to-cell recognition processes. Changes in the composition of these carbohydrates can lead to many pathological conditions, including the proliferation of cancerous cells and compromised immune function. Research suggests that elevated activity in the enzymes that place these carbohydrates on the cell surface is primarily responsible for changes in cell surface composition, however, the chemical mechanisms these enzymes use to function are not well understood. Working in collaboration with the McGill Cancer Centre in Montreal, Luke Lairson is researching how these enzymes function. This knowledge may be used to design effective new drug therapies to inhibit enzyme activity and help prevent and treat various human diseases ranging from cancer to AIDS.