Distinguished Professor of Medicine and Cellular & Molecular Medicine
Co-Director, Glycobiology Research and Training Center
Co-Director, UCSD/Salk Center for Academic Research and Training in Anthropogeny (CARTA)
Adjunct Professor, Salk Institute for Biological Studies


Graduate Program Memberships

Center Memberships


Biomedical Sciences (1985 - present)
Neuroscience (1985 - present)

Cancer Center (1982 - present)
Institute for Biomedical Engineering (1991 - present)
Glycobiology Research and Training Center (1999 - present)
UCSD/Salk CARTA (2008 - present)

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Dr. Ajit Varki


Glycobiology Research and Training Center
University of California, San Diego
BRF2, Room 4126
9500 Gilman Drive MC 0687
La Jolla CA 92093-0687



Varki Lab:     

(858) 534-2214
(858) 534-5611 (no unsolicited faxes)


Varki Lab website


Other Information:    

Complete Listing of Publications
Anthropogeny (Human Origins) Publications

Google Scholar
Press Releases and News Items
Profiles, Interviews and Videos
General Interest Book: DENIAL

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Research Interests

Our research interests are currently focused on a family of sugar molecules called the Sialic Acids, and their roles in biology, evolution and disease. The surfaces of all cells in all organisms are decorated with a dense and complex array of sugar chains. These "glycans" are known to mediate or modulate many biological processes including sub-cellular and cellular trafficking, intercellular adhesion, signaling, and microbial attachment. Much data also indicates their involvement in embryonic development, normal tissue organization, tumor metastasis, and in the interactions of cells with extra-cellular molecules. In recent years, improved technologies have permitted exploration of this new frontier of "Molecular Glycobiology." The Varki lab (directed by Ajit and Nissi Varki) uses these new approaches, along with the traditional tools of molecular biology, biochemistry, genetics and genomics to investigate selected areas of Glycobiology. The present focus is on sialic acids, which are found at the outermost position on the glycan chains of all vertebrate cell surfaces and glycoproteins. Currently active projects are relevant to the roles of sialic acids in Viral and Bacterial Infectivity, the Regulation of the Immune Response, the Initiation and Progression of Tumors and Unique Aspects of Human Evolution. We are particularly intrigued to find multiple differences in sialic acid biology between humans and our closest evolutionary cousins, the great apes. These differences are a signature of the multiple cellular and molecular events that occurred during the last few million years of human evolution, and are relevant to understanding several aspects of the current human condition, both in health and disease.


Ajit Varki received basic training in physiology, medicine, biology, and biochemistry at the Christian Medical College, Vellore, The University of Nebraska, and Washington University in St. Louis. He also has formal training and certification in internal medicine, hematology, and oncology. He is currently a distinguished professor of medicine and cellular and molecular medicine, Co-director of the Glycobiology Research and Training Center at UCSD and executive editor of the textbook Essentials of Glycobiology. He is also Executive Co-director for the UCSD/Salk Center for Academic Research and Training in Anthropogeny, and an Adjunct Professor at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies. Dr. Varki is an elected member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the National Academy of Medicine, the American Society for Clinical Investigation, and the Association of American Physicians.

Dr. Varki is recipient of a MERIT award from the NIH, an American Cancer Society Faculty Research Award, and two highest honors in the field, the Karl Meyer Award of the Society for Glycobiology and the International Glycoconjugate Organization (IGO) Award (2007). He is also recognized for creating the first major open access research journal (JCI, 1996) as well as the first major open access textbook (Essentials of Glycobiology, 2008). He is a member of the Faculty of 1000 and a specialist advisor to the Human Gene Nomenclature Committee and the Vertebrate Gene Nomenclature Committee. He was honored with the Old Cottonian of Eminence Award at the 150th Anniversary of Bishop Cotton Boy's School, Bangalore, India, (2015) as well as the Annual Research Day Distinguished Faculty Medal and Oration at his medical school alma mater, the Christian Medical College, Vellore. Significant past appointments include: Associate Dean for Physician-Scientist Training at UCSD (2003-10); co-head, UCSD Division of Hematology/Oncology (1987-89): president of the Society for Glycobiology (1996); editor-in-chief of the Journal of Clinical Investigation (1992-97); interim directorship of the UCSD Cancer Center (1996-97); president of the American Society for Clinical Investigation (1998-99); consulting editor for the Journal of Clinical Investigation (1998-2006), and PLoS Medicine (2004-2008); scientific advisor to the Complex Carbohydrate Research Center (University of Georgia) and the Yerkes Primate Center (Emory University); member of the National Advisory Committee of PubMed Central (NLM/NIH); and coordinator for the multidisciplinary UCSD Project for Explaining the Origins of Humans (1996-2007). His interests in human evolution also led him to propose a novel Mind over Reality Transition theory about human origins, in the book, DENIAL.

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