Dr. Carlito B. Lebrilla has been very involved in the capacity building of students and young scientists. He is a strong proponent for the involvement of underrepresented minorities in science. He has been involved in programs of the university that provide fellowships to under-represented graduate students and post-doctoral fellows. Nearly half of his students have been women and many from minority groups including Latinos and African Americans. He has been a mentor for the ACS SEED, an outreach to high achieving high school students from economically disadvantaged backgrounds and was organizer for many years. Dr. Lebrilla pioneered the development of glycomic tools for health and diseases. Before his research, measurement and annotation of glycans were very limited. At that time rapid throughput glycan analysis seemed impossible given the complexity, structural heterogeneity, and their poor MS detection sensitivities compared to peptides and metabolites. He therefore focused on understanding the ionization and gas-phase chemistry of oligosaccharides then constructed extensive glycan libraries for putative structures and for exact structures with branching and linkages.
Dr. Lebrilla and his team is their elucidation of the role of human milk oligosaccharides in developing the gut microbiota. Human milk oligosaccharides (HMOs) were known to be the third most abundant component of human milk, behind lactose and lipids but their roles were never fully understood. His team determined the HMO structures systematically and developed methods for annotating each structure constructing HMO profiles with quantitation for nearly 200 compounds. It was apparent that HMOs functioned as prebiotic and fed a specific group of bacteria. Through collaborations with microbiologist and food scientist, they established that HMOs develop the gut microbiota of infants. This research has been one of the drivers for the current interests in the microbiota.