Thursday, July 03, 2008


Metabolomics studies metabolites, the by-products of the hundreds of thousands of chemical reactions that continuously go on in every cell of the human body. Because blood and urine are packed with these compounds, it should be possible to detect and analyse them. If, say, a tumour was growing somewhere then, long before any existing methods can detect it, the combination of metabolites from the dividing cancer cells will produce a new pattern, different from that seen in healthy tissue. Such metabolic changes could be picked up by computer programs, adapted from those credit-card companies use to detect crime by spotting sudden and unusual spending patterns amid millions of ordinary transactions.

Douglas Kell, a researcher at the University of Manchester in Britain, has already created a computer model based on metabolite profiles in blood plasma that can single out pregnant women who are developing pre-eclampsia, or dangerously high blood pressure. Research published last year by Rima Kaddurah-Daouk, a psychiatrist at the Duke University Medical Centre in America, may not only provide a test for schizophrenia, but also help with its treatment. She found a pattern of metabolites present only in the blood of people who had been diagnosed with schizophrenia. The patterns change according to the antipsychotic drugs patients take and this may throw light on why some respond well to certain drugs, but others suffer severe side-effects.

One use for such information could be to help people with their diet. Advice about healthy living tends to consist of generalisations, like “eat low-fat products”. But there are big differences in the way people respond to food. About a third of people have problems with a very low-fat diet, says Lori Hoolihan of the Dairy Council of California. “It produces metabolic reactions that actually cause harmful LDL cholesterol to rise, increasing the risk of heart disease,” she says. Metabolic markers might pick up such variations.
Sounds good. Can't wait until my toilet analyzes all of my metabolites and tells me how I ought to be changing my diet.

Looks like we are just at the beginning of this process though as research is just starting.
Dr Wishart and his team of 50 scientists late last year released the first draft of the human metabolome—a database that contains the chemical fingerprints of some 3,000 metabolites, 1,200 drugs and 3,500 food components found in the human body.

Thousands of people need to be tested and monitored for years to build up an accurate picture of what sort of metabolic patterns could make people ill. But the work has begun: the Human Serum Metabolome Project at Manchester University is collecting samples from over 5,000 people.
via The Economist

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