The first steps in organizing glycobiology research at UCSD occurred in 1990, with the formation of a glycobiology program within the UCSD Cancer Center, consisting of Ajit Varki (program leader), Elaine Muchmore, George Palade, Marilyn Farquhar, Adriana Manzi, and Michael Bevilacqua. The program also helped to develop a Glycotechnology Core Resource
, first directed by Adriana Manzi. The subsequent recruitment of Jamey Marth and Jeffrey Esko increased the critical mass in the program. Cooperative interactions with other UCSD faculty and with the glycobiology/carbohydrate chemistry program at the nearby Burnham Institute helped to enhance the activities of the program. The funding of a major program project by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute then involved several other investigators with an interest in glycobiology, such as Leland Powell, Steve Hedrick, and Nissi Varki.
Glycobiology transcends traditional disciplinary boundaries. Thus, many of the research activities conducted by the expanding faculty no longer fit under the designation of cancer research. Meanwhile, the program and the core resource generated interest from a wide variety of UCSD faculty, ranging from marine biologists to bioengineers to medical clinicians, representing a diverse spectrum of research activities. For these reasons, it was agreed that the cancer-related research of the faculty associated with the cancer center would be subsumed under a larger cancer biology program. However, several faculty both within and outside the cancer center expressed a keen interest in maintaining the concept of a distinct organization that encourages and enhances research in glycobiology. In addition, a survey of academic peer-review funded investigators who used the core resource found 25, who indicated a definite interest in continued usage of its technologies. A telephone poll conducted in early 1998 indicated that more than 30 faculty from many UCSD departments were interested in better organizing glycobiology research and access to the related glycotechnology core facilities at UCSD.
Based upon this interest, Vice-chancellors J. Alksne and R. Attiyeh asked for submission of a proposal that could achieve these goals. Many interested UCSD faculty members then participated in luncheon meetings where scientific presentations were made and further discussions of the concept were carried out. A second written survey was then conducted to reconfirm the interest of the faculty and to ascertain their priorities for the proposed organization. Thus, an application for a Glycobiology Research and Training Center (GRTC) was submitted in late 1998, and formally approved by Chancellor R. Dynes on June 1, 1999. During the initial phases of growth, the center co-directors Ajit Varki and Jeff Esko were advised by a steering committee composed of Jamey Marth, Yitzhak Tor, Victor Vacquier and Herman Van Halbeek. Since that time, the center has grown by incorporating many more scientists interested in glycobiology, not only from UCSD and the surrounding institutions, but also from all other campuses of the University of California system. Meanwhile, the Core Resource
also expanded its operations under the directorships of Bradley Hayes (2002-03), and Anup Datta (2004-2008) and Biswa Choudhury (2008 -). Throughout this period of growth the GRTC has maintained its core philosophy of remaining a "virtual center" without walls, and focused on its primary mission: to facilitate and enhance glycobiology research and training among University of California faculty with the minimum possible paperwork and bureaucracy.
The GRTC organized research unit (ORU) underwent its first five-year review in 2005. The overall report was highly favorable, recognizing the strong impact on UC faculty research, even while minimizing costs and avoiding the formation of unnecessary bureaucratic structures. The Glycotechnology Core Resource
was also commended for its huge positive impact on researchers all across the country. There were also highly favorable comments regarding teaching through courses in the medical school and main campus, expansion of research opportunities through the ORU-sponsored annual symposium, and the textbook co-authored and co-edited by the GRTC membership. The committee concluded that the GRTC "is now...possibly the single most important center in the world, for research in glycobiology" and "unanimously expressed great enthusiasm for the success of the ORU."