UC San Diego bioengineers take on key role in new NIH common funds metabolomics

September 24th, 2012
With a $6 million grant over five years, bioengineers from the University of California, San Diego will play a central role in a new program from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to accelerate "metabolomics", an emerging field of biomedical research that offers a path to a wealth of information about a person's nutrition, infection, health, disease status and more. In addition to powerful tools for diagnosis and disease follow-up, metabolomics technologies will transform researchers' ability to define the mechanisms underlying disease, such as diabetes and obesity, and to develop new strategies for treatment.

Metabolomics is the study of small molecules called metabolites, found within cells and biological systems. Metabolites are produced or consumed in the chemical reactions that take place in the body to sustain life. The sum of all metabolites at any given moment—the metabolome—is a form of chemical readout of the state of health of the cell or body. One of the expected outcomes of this project is the ability to "metabo-type" individuals in order to get a detailed picture of their current metabolite profile, and recognize problems such as insulin resistance at an early stage. The effects of interventions such as changes in diet and exercise as well as pharmaceuticals could then be seen in updated metabo-type readings.

Shankar Subramaniam, professor and chair of the Department of Bioengineering at the UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering leads the metabolomics effort at UC San Diego, which involves coordinating the research cores and running the metabolome project's Data Repository and Coordination Center (DRCC).

"I'm very excited about the prospect of collaborating with researchers in the Jacobs School, the School of Medicine, the San Diego Supercomputer Center and others across the campus and the country," said Subramaniam. "This work will lead to a systems level understanding of human physiology at the molecular level," said Subramaniam, who is the Joan and Irwin Jacobs Professor of Bioengineering and Systems Biology at UC San Diego. Subramaniam is also an Associate Director of the UC San Diego Institute of Engineering in Medicine.

The metabolomics project will provide insights into the millions of microorganisms living within us. The human body contains many more bacterial cells than human cells, and this metabolome project will provide new opportunities for researchers to understand the role that microorganisms living within the body play in human health, Subramaniam explained.

Through the data repository, the bioengineers and other researchers at UC San Diego will organize and present all data from the three metabolome core centers across the country, as well as other metabolomics efforts. The DRCC functions as a coordinating hub so that the awardees can function as a consortium. Subramaniam has extensive experience in integration of "omics" data and has experience coordinating other large scale projects. The data repository will be housed at the San Diego Supercomputer Center at UC San Diego, directed by Michael Norman.

This metabolomics project at UC San Diego is an extension of the successful Lipid Maps project. Lipids are just one metabolite, and the metabolomics work will extend researchers view beyond this metabolite to others, such as sugars, nucleic acids, amino acids and hormones.

Funding to UC San Diego for this project is $6 million over five years, part of a total investment by the NIH of $51.4 for the metabolomics project. The awards are supported by the NIH Common Fund.

The NIH Common Fund is taking a comprehensive approach to increasing the research capacity in metabolomics by funding a variety of initiatives in this area, including training, technology development, standards synthesis, and data sharing capability for this new field.

"We are excited about the potential advances in technology that will enable metabolomics analysis to be conducted in basic and clinical settings, resulting in the discovery of new diagnostic tools and yielding important clues about disease mechanisms. The new cross-cutting metabolomics initiatives will allow for better data sharing and coordination of metabolomics efforts both nationally and internationally," said James M. Anderson, M.D., Ph.D., director of the NIH Division of Program Coordination, Planning and Strategic Initiatives, which oversees trans-NIH program areas, including those supported through the NIH Common Fund.

Regional Comprehensive Metabolomics Resource Cores

In addition of the Data Repository and Coordination Center award to UC San Diego, the NIH has awarded three Regional Comprehensive Metabolomics Resource Cores. These Cores will increase the national capacity to provide metabolomics profiling and data analysis services to investigators.

The University of Michigan's resource core is a fully integrated program that will provide researchers nationwide with the expertise and infrastructure for metabolomics in addition to training opportunities.

University of California, Davis's resource core will serve clinical and biomedical researchers across the West Coast, with access to cutting-edge tools, collaborations and interpretation of data.

The third award goes to Research Triangle Institute in Research Triangle Park, N.C., which is positioned as a leader of regional metabolomics center and offers a comprehensive range of services and collaborative opportunities for metabolomics technologies.

For more information about the funded awards, go to: http://commonfund.nih.gov/Metabolomics/fundedresearch.aspx. Additional information about the Metabolomics Program is available at http://commonfund.nih.gov/Metabolomics/.

Provided by University of California - San Diego

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