Jessica Stark

Making synthetic biology sweeter

Chemical and Biomolecular Engineer

Jessica Stark head shot

Glycoconjugates – biopolymers decorated with sugars, or glycans – coat the surface of every cell and provide one of the first points of contact with the immune system. Alteration of the chemical structures of appended glycans is often associated with disease and can contribute to pathogenesis by modulating immune responses. Thus, glycoconjugates represent attractive targets for immunotherapy, with broad potential applications for the treatment of infectious disease, cancer, and autoimmunity. However, a key challenge that has historically limited our ability to study or therapeutically target interactions between glycoconjugates and immune cells is the non-templated nature of the glycosylation process. For instance, a single glycoprotein is composed of a collection of different glycoforms bearing distinct glycan structures, which arise due to the stochastic action of multiple glycosylation enzymes in living cells. This inherent heterogeneity presents barriers to studying or targeting the specific glycoforms that play immunomodulatory roles. To address this limitation, I developed a synthetic biological technology for rapid and facile enzymatic synthesis of glycoproteins bearing homogeneous glycan structures. I further applied this technology to enable on-demand and portable production of glycoconjugate vaccines that use bacterial cell-surface glycans to educate immune cells to respond to infections. My current work focuses on identifying and targeting specific glycoforms that allow cancer cells to evade anti-tumor immune responses. Overall, my new technologies and approaches promise to help elucidate the roles of glycoconjugates in disease and enable development of new therapeutic interventions.

Connect with Me

Glycosylated protein production

Postdoc, Stanford University


Research Adviser: Prof. Carolyn Bertozzi


Ph.D., Northwestern University

Chemical & Biological Engineering

Research Adviser: Prof. Michael Jewett


Management Certificate, Northwestern University

Kellogg School of Management


B.S., Cornell University

Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering, cum laude

Research Adviser: Prof. Matthew DeLisa


Jewett Lab at Northwestern University

National Cancer Institute F32 Postdoctoral Fellow


Northwestern University Chemical Engineering Distinguished Graduate Researcher Award


National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellow


National Institute of Health Biotechnology Training Program Fellow


The Henry Luce Foundation Clare Boothe Luce Graduate Fellow, awarded by the Society of Women Engineers


Irwin and Joan Jacobs Engineering Scholar


Silverman Hall at Northwestern University

Genentech, Inc.

gRED Infectious Diseases

May 2013-Aug 2013

Early Stage Pharmaceutical Development

May 2012-Apr 2013

Analytical Operations

May 2011-Aug 2011

NIH ARRA Research Experience for Undergraduates

University of Illinois at Chicago, College of Pharmacy

May 2010-Aug 2010

Spies Research Group

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Biochemistry

Aug 2007-Aug 2009