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Measuring the metabolome

By Rhonda Mullen

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If we are ever able to design individual or personalized health care, we need to know more than just the sequence of our genes. Our genome is important, but so are other "omes"—the proteome, for example, and the metabolome.

The metabolome gives us a chemical signature, says Dean Jones, who directs the Emory Clinical Biomarkers Laboratory. "It reflects what we're eating, what the proteins and enzymes are doing, whether the required nutrients are high or low, and the presence of drugs or chemicals from the environment, such as perfumes, pesticides, or flame retardant."

At Emory, researchers in the clinical biomarkers lab use high-definition mass spectrometry to characterize the metabolome in blood or urine samples. With a single 10-minute analysis, they can identify 8,000 to 10,000 chemicals in the sample. They then run each sample six times using two different methods to get a complete picture that is then stored in a database. Their goal is to build a large reference base that can be mined to see patterns, identify and track natural changes, and then link those patterns and changes to a particular disease.

The Emory lab is collaborating with others across the country and the campus on metabolic studies, including those on transplant and age-related macular degeneration. Its researchers are assisting Emory cardiologist Arshed Quyyumi in creating predictive models for cardiovascular disease by comparing differences in the metabolome of patients who survive five years after treatment in the catheterization lab and that of those who do not. They also are supporting rehab medicine specialist Nancy Kutner in exploring the use of metabolic markers to predict frailty in patients on dialysis and pediatric pulmonologist Ann Fitzpatrick in studying the metabolome to help predict which children will respond to a treatment for asthma.

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