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The multitude of roles that carbohydrates and their glyco-conjugates play in biological processes has stimulated great interest in determining the nature of their interactions in both normal and diseased states. Manipulating such interactions will provide leads for drug discovery. Of the major classes of biomolecule, carbohydrates are the most structurally diverse. This hetereogeneity makes isolation of pure samples, and in sufficient amounts, from biological sources extremely difficult. Chemical synthesis offers the advantage of producing pure and structurally defined oligosaccharides for biological investigations. Although the complex nature of carbohydrates means that this is challenging, recent advances in the field have facilitated access to these molecules. The synthesis and isolation of oligosaccharides combined with progress in glycoarray technology have aided the identification of new carbohydrate-binding drug targets. This review aims to provide an overview of the latest advancements in carbohydrate chemistry and the role of these complex molecules in drug discovery, focusing particularly on synthetic methodologies, glycosaminoglycans, glycoprotein synthesis and vaccine development over the last few years.
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