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

May 8, 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: Recon 2 modeling may help tailor treatments for patients with metabolic diseases, cancer

Related Stories

Painting a 'bullseye' on cancer cells

August 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

March 3, 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

July 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

Scientists create first stable semisynthetic organism

January 23, 2017

Life's genetic code has only ever contained four natural bases. These bases pair up to form two "base pairs"—the rungs of the DNA ladder—and they have simply been rearranged to create bacteria and butterflies, penguins ...

New steps in the meiosis chromosome dance

January 23, 2017

Where would we be without meiosis and recombination? For a start, none of us sexually reproducing organisms would be here, because that's how sperm and eggs are made. And when meiosis doesn't work properly, it can lead to ...

Research describes missing step in how cells move their cargo

January 23, 2017

Every time a hormone is released from a cell, every time a neurotransmitter leaps across a synapse to relay a message from one neuron to another, the cell must undergo exocytosis. This is the process responsible for transporting ...

Lab charts the anatomy of three molecular channels

January 23, 2017

Using a state-of-the-art imaging technology in which molecules are deep frozen, scientists in Roderick MacKinnon's lab at Rockefeller University have reconstructed in unprecedented detail the three-dimensional architecture ...

Immune defense without collateral damage

January 23, 2017

Researchers from the University of Basel in Switzerland have clarified the role of the enzyme MPO. In fighting infections, this enzyme, which gives pus its greenish color, produces a highly aggressive acid that can kill pathogens ...

Provocative prions may protect yeast cells from stress

January 23, 2017

Prions have a notorious reputation. They cause neurodegenerative disease, namely mad cow/Creutzfeld-Jakob disease. And the way these protein particles propagate—getting other proteins to join the pile—can seem insidious.

0 comments

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.