Summary for the general public

Metabolomics Laboratory

Metabolomics, the study of metabolites, is one of CADET's two main research focuses. We are able to carry out small and large scale studies of biological material in order to investigate the role of metabolites in disease onset and progression, and in drug discovery.

Metabolomics is the study of small chemical compounds, known as metabolites (sugars, amino acids, fats and many others) in biological systems. We are successfully applying metabolomics to define biological mechanisms relevant to health, disease and ageing, as well as to target and develop new therapeutics. The laboratory has the capability to study a wide range of biological samples collected from mammals including blood products, urine, cerebrospinal fluid, cells, tissues and organs.

The method used to study these metabolites is mass spectrometry. This method identifies hundreds of molecules within each sample, by first separating them using chromatography (in either liquid or gas) and then measuring their mass in one of our three mass spectrometers (see the mass spectrometry animation in ‘What we do’ for more detail).

There are two types of experimental strategy that can be applied to metabolomics studies.

Discovery studies perform metabolic profiling, where how much and how many of a wide range and large number of metabolites are determined. Differences in the relative amounts of metabolites are then determined statistically between for example, healthy and diseased tissue from patients. We have two mass spectrometers dedicated for our discovery studies.

Targeted studies determine absolute amounts to a high level of precision and accuracy of a small number of metabolites, which are either the ones of greatest biological interest determined from discovery phase studies, or specific compounds such as medicines so that we can see how the body breaks them down, and indeed whether a patient has been taking them properly!

The picture above shows the mass spectrometer we use for our targeted studies: the mass spectrometer is on the right and the liquid chromatography separation set-up is on the left.

We also undertake Trace metal studies, where the absolute amounts of biologically relevant trace metals (e.g., copper, iron, magnesium, etc.) in the body can be measured to very low levels (ppm). This is done in our fourth mass spectrometer, where all the molecules in a sample are vaporised into their constituent parts (elements) and analysed in plasma.