Researchers are finding multiple approaches to metabolomic research and development involving disparate technology platforms and instrumentation

Human metabolome has been discovered to be a wealth of medical laboratory biomarkers for diagnosis, therapy, and patient monitoring. Because it can provide a dynamic phenotype of the human body, there are many potential clinical laboratory applications that could arise from metabolomics, the study of metabolites.

Researchers are discovering numerous ways the expanding field of metabolomics could transform the future of healthcare. However, to fully exploit the potential of human metabolome, developers must choose from various approaches to research.

“The metabolites we’re dealing with have vast differences in chemical properties, which means you need multi-platform approaches and various types of instrumentation,” James MacRae, PhD, Head of Metabolomics at the Francis Crick Institute in London, told Technology Networks. “We can either use an untargeted approach—trying to measure as much as possible, generating a metabolic profile—or else a more targeted approach where we are focusing on specific metabolites or pathways,” he added.

A multi-platform approach means different diagnostic technologies required to assess an individual’s various metabolomes, which, potentially, could result in multi-biomarker assays for medical laboratories.

Measuring All Metabolites in a Cell or Bio System

Metabolomics is the study of small molecules located within cells, biofluids, tissues, and organisms. These molecules are known as metabolites, and their functions within a biological system are cumulatively known as the metabolome.

Metabolomics, the study of metabolome, can render a real-time representation of the complete physiology of an organism by examining differences between biological samples based on their metabolite characteristics.

“Metabolomics is the attempt to measure all of the metabolites in a cell or bio system,” explained MacRae in the Technology Networks article. “You have tens of thousands of genes, of which tens of thousands will be expressed—and you also have the proteins expressed from them, which will then also be modified in different ways. And all of these things impact on a relatively small number of metabolites—in the thousands rather than the tens of thousands. Because of that, it’s a very sensitive output for the health or physiology of your sample.

“With that in mind, metabolomics has great potential for application in most, if not all, diseases—from diabetes, heart disease, cancer, HIV, autoimmune disease, parasitology, and host-pathogen interactions,” he added.

State-of-the-art metabolomic technologies

The graphic above is taken from a study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology (JACC). It notes, “State-of-the-art metabolomic technologies give us the ability to measure thousands of metabolites in biological fluids or biopsies, providing us with a metabolic fingerprint of individual patients. These metabolic profiles may serve as diagnostic and/or prognostic tools that have the potential to significantly alter the management of [chronic disease].” (Image and caption copyright:Journal of the American College of Cardiology.)

There are four major fields of study that are collectively referred to as the “omics.” In addition to metabolomics, the remaining three are:

•                  Genomics: the study of DNA and genetic information within a cell;

•                  Proteomics: the large-scale study of proteins; and,

•                  Transcriptomics: the study of RNA and differences in mRNA expressions.

Researchers caution that metabolomics should be used in conjunction with other methods to analyze data for the most accurate results.

“Taking everything together—metabolic profiling, targeted assays, label incorporation and computational models, and also trying to associate all of this with proteomics and

genomics and transcriptomic data—that’s really what encapsulates both the power and also the challenges of metabolomics,” MacRae explained.

Metabolome in Precision Medicine

Metabolomics may also have the ability to help researchers and physicians fine-tune therapies to meet the specific needs of individual patients.

“We know we’re all very different and we don’t respond to drugs in the same way, so we could potentially use metabolomics to help select the best treatment for each individual,” Warwick Dunn, PhD, Senior Lecturer in Metabolomics at the University of Birmingham, Director of Mass Spectrometry, Phenome Center Birmingham, and, Co-Director, Birmingham Metabolomics Training Center, UK, told Technology Networks.

“Our genome is generally static and says what might happen in the future. And the metabolome at the other end is the opposite—very dynamic, saying what just happened or could be about the happen,” Dunn explained. “So, we could apply it to identify prognostic biomarkers, for example, to predict if someone is at greater risk of developing diabetes five to ten years from now. And if you know that, you can change their lifestyle or environment to try and prevent it.”

Metabolomics continues to tap the many diagnostic possibilities posed by the human metabolome. And, the resulting human biomarkers derived from the research could result in a rich new vein of medical laboratory assays.

—JP Schlingman

Related Information:

Metabolomics and Health: On the Cusp of a Revolution

‘Metabolomics’ Distinguishes Pancreatic Cancer from Pancreatitis

Using Metabolomics to Prevent Colon Cancer

Applications of Metabolomics

The Emerging Role of Metabolomics in the Diagnosis and Prognosis of Cardiovascular Disease

Metabolomics Takes Another Step Forward as Methodology for Clinical Laboratory Testing with Development of an Assay for the Diagnosis of Concussion