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Her interdisciplinary research focuses on elucidating and exploiting the mechanisms of cell surface recognition processes, including those that involve of protein–saccharide recognition and oligosaccharide function. Another major interest of her group is multivalency and its role in recognition and signal transduction. Her research combines tools from organic synthesis, polymer chemistry, structural biology, microbiology, and molecular and cell biology.
Kiessling is a professor in the MIT Department of Chemistry. She is a member of the Editorial Board for Chemistry & Biology and Annual Reviews of Biochemistry. She serves as a USA Section Head for Chemical Biology, Faculty of 1000 and is a member of the Keystone Meetings Advisory Board.
Her recent awards include the James W. Taylor Excellence in Teaching Award, the Claude S. Hudson Award, the Murray S. Goodman Memorial Prize, the Albert Hofmann Award, University of Zurich, Alfred Bader Award in Bioinorganic or Bioorganic Chemistry and Alexander M. Cruickshank Award. She is a member of the American Philosophical Society.