A subset of histo-blood group antigens including ABO and Lewis are oligosaccharide structures which may be conjugated to lipids or proteins. They are known to be important recognition motifs not only in the context of blood transfusions, but also in infection and cancer development. Current knowledge on the molecular background and the implication of histo-blood group glycans in the prevention and therapy of infectious and non-communicable diseases, such as cancer and cardiovascular disease, is presented. Glycan-based histo-blood groups are associated with intestinal microbiota composition, the risk of various diseases as well as therapeutic success of, e.g., vaccination. Their potential as prebiotic or anti-microbial agents, as disease biomarkers and vaccine targets should be further investigated in future studies. For this, recent and future technological advancements will be of particular importance, especially with regard to the unambiguous structural characterization of the glycan portion in combination with information on the protein and lipid carriers of histo-blood group-active glycans in large cohorts. Histo-blood group glycans have a unique linking position in the complex network of genes, oncodevelopmental biological processes, and disease mechanisms. Thus, they are highly promising targets for novel approaches in the field of personalized medicine. This article is part of a Special Issue entitled "Glycans in personalised medicine" Guest Editor: Professor Gordan Lauc. Copyright © 2016 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.