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What are Cell Surface Markers?

Cell surface markers are special proteins and carbohydrates attached to the cell membrane. While some proteins have the task of allowing the transport of molecules across the membrane, cell surface markers play a role in inter-cellular communication and recognition. In short, cell surface markers are like a fingerprint, specific to each kind of cell, and capable of being identified according to what kinds of markers are present on the membrane.

Cell surface markers are used to classify cells according to their markers. This data, in turn, is used to identify different kinds of cells, from cancer cells to stem cells to cells infected with HIV. To learn more about Cell Identification, click here


One of the students working on this website had the opportunity to work in a lab dealing with proteins. He was working with a molecule know as sialic acid, a common surface cell marker common to many kinds of cells and is related to the infection and development of several diseases. To the right is a picture of a crystal he was able to produce. A page discussing the proceedures and results of his project can be found here.

Drug Discovery

Cell Surface Markers also hold the potential to aid in drug discovery and especially personalized medicine. With the ability to identify individual cells according to surface markers, scientists are beginning to make breakthroughs in the development of new drugs. Click here to learn more.

Issues and Imapacts
While the applications of cell surface markers might not be as controversial as genetically modified organisms, there is still discussion about its use with stem cells. Also, since the research has been ongoing for years, there is doubt if the research is worth it, as any beneficial medication will most likely be too expensive. Click here to read more.


The research on cell markers has been ongoing for many decades and even centuries including even the discovery of the cell and its structure in its purview. Click here to view the timeline. 

 Created by: Don-Wook Shin and Ted Xiao. Davis Senior High School. 2012.

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