'Roadmap' of human metabolism offers new understanding of cancer, obesity, more

May 08, 2013

(Medical Xpress)—An international consortium of researchers has created the largest computer model of human metabolism to date, an astonishingly detailed roadmap that points the way to better understanding of cancer, obesity, diabetes, heart disease and a host of other conditions. It's a powerful new tool that will speed the development of new drugs and treatments and, eventually, may allow doctors to tailor medicine to each patient's personal biology.

The model, called Recon 2, details thousands of that occur within humans' cells. By understanding these functions, their interactions and how they influence , scientists can get the big picture of the microscopic cellular universe.

"Metabolism is central to much of our body's function, and this model captures thousands of different ," explained Jason Papin, a researcher at the University of Virginia School of Medicine involved in the project. "We start with the . This modeling effort is a way to functionalize the genome, a way to make value out of that sequence information.

"With the genome, you have a parts list, the components. What this model does is take the functions associated with those components and put them together in a mathematical way so that you can start to predict how it will behave."

The model is by far the most complete computer representation of metabolism yet, incorporating several previous models and more than 1,000 papers. It represents a of a substantial percentage of the top metabolism researchers from around the globe. By bringing together so much of science's understanding of metabolism, the researchers have created a way to better understand the metabolic mistakes that cause disease – and to speed future breakthroughs to battle those diseases.

Take cancer, for example. "The idea would be that if a patient's tumor becomes resistant to existing therapies, these models of metabolism can help point to new therapies or new pathways that we can target with drugs to help stop growth," Papin said. "Cancer growth is a function of metabolism. Metabolism is there to help it grow. And we're hoping this modeling effort will help us know how to inhibit some of those key processes."

The researchers describe the model in a paper in the May issue of the journal Nature Biotechnology. They have made the model freely available online, at www.humanmetabolism.org , and they're already at work making it even more comprehensive.

"This is really a starting point," Papin said. "The model has much, much to be improved, for sure. But in the end what we want to be able to do is have a computer model of the whole cell, and with that hopefully be able to make all kinds of useful predictions and guide new experiments and help interpret new data that's generated. So while this is a first step, I think it's an important, big first step."

Explore further: Heaven scent: Finding may help restore fragrance to roses

Related Stories

Painting a 'bullseye' on cancer cells

Aug 22, 2011

Scientists are constantly on the hunt for treatments that can selectively target cancer cells, leaving other cells in our bodies unharmed. Now, Prof. Eytan Ruppin of Tel Aviv University's Blavatnik School of Computer Science ...

Study maps human metabolism in health and disease

Mar 03, 2013

Scientists have produced an instruction manual for the human genome that provides a framework to better understand the relationship between an individual's genetic make-up and their lifestyle.

Cancer-metabolism link runs deep in humans

Jul 21, 2010

Eighty years ago, the medical establishment believed cancer was caused by a dysfunction of metabolism, but the idea went out of vogue. Now, scientists are again looking at metabolism and its role in cancer and other common ...

Nutrition and heredity are genetically linked

May 16, 2007

A challenging goal in biology is to understand how the principal cellular functions are integrated so that cells achieve viability and optimal fitness under a wide range of nutritional conditions. Scientists from the French ...

Recommended for you

Study on pesticides in lab rat feed causes a stir

Jul 02, 2015

French scientists published evidence Thursday of pesticide contamination of lab rat feed which they said discredited historic toxicity studies, though commentators questioned the analysis.

International consortium to study plant fertility evolution

Jul 02, 2015

Mark Johnson, associate professor of biology, has joined a consortium of seven other researchers in four European countries to develop the fullest understanding yet of how fertilization evolved in flowering plants. The research, ...

Making the biofuels process safer for microbes

Jul 02, 2015

A team of investigators at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Michigan State University have created a process for making the work environment less toxic—literally—for the organisms that do the heavy ...

Why GM food is so hard to sell to a wary public

Jul 02, 2015

Whether commanding the attention of rock star Neil Young or apparently being supported by the former head of Greenpeace, genetically modified food is almost always in the news – and often in a negative ...

The hidden treasure in RNA-seq

Jul 01, 2015

Michael Stadler and his team at the Friedrich Miescher institute for Biomedical Research (FMI) have developed a novel computational approach to analyze RNA-seq data. By comparing intronic and exonic RNA reads, ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.