Word of the day: Metabolites

Haley Bridger, March 21st, 2011 | Filed under

Chemical reactions are constantly happening in the body as molecules are assembled or broken down. These internal molecules are called metabolites, and more than 6,000 can be found in humans. Metabolites include amino acids, vitamins, hormones, and just about any other naturally occurring molecule that is not DNA, RNA, or protein. Metabolite profiling, or metabolomics, is the study of the levels of all of the body's naturally occurring small molecules.

Metabolomics is a relatively new field but the idea of examining the levels of certain molecules in the body to measure human health has been around for a long time. When doctors measure levels of glucose, cholesterol, and triglycerides in the blood, they are engaging in a basic form of metabolite profiling. The kind of profiling that the Broad’s Metabolite Profiling group conducts is more sweeping. The team, led by Broad researcher Clary Clish, can look for new connections between metabolites and disease in hundreds if not thousands of patient samples.

In July 2008, the Broad launched the Metabolite Profiling Initiative, which looks for the chemical fingerprints of both disease and normal activity. Metabolites can be used as biomarkers – or read-outs – of disease, and there are many studies currently underway at the Broad to match markers with diseases ranging from mitochondrial disorders to cancer metabolism, to identify the metabolite “fingerprint” of those diseases. Most recently, researchers have uncovered early metabolic biomarkers of type 2 diabetes – read a news story about the discoveries here, check out the papers in JCI and Nature Medicine, or read a Project Spotlight featuring this ongoing investigation.

Metabolites are one of the many kinds of molecular biomarkers that researchers at the Broad are hunting. The Metabolite Profiling group often works closely with the Broad’s Proteomics Platform — aimed at profiling the proteins and peptides involved in human health and disease — to help find markers that may help protect, diagnose, and eventually lead to new treatment options for a variety of diseases.

Read more about the Proteomics Platform here.

Read more about the Metabolite Profiling Initiative here.