Metabolomics and cancer research

Metabolomics can assist in identifying cancer cells’ response to new drugs

First published: 17/02/2014

Updated at: 12/02/2014 at 2:16 pm

The Metabolomics Australia bioinformatics team at the University of Melbourne is developing a range of statistical and multivariant analysis to help understand the cellular response of different cancer cell lines to new drugs.

Together with datasets generated by the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre research groups, including transcript and proteomic analyses, the team is developing a comprehensive view of affected metabolic pathways.

The team is looking at the small molecules (or metabolites) which are formed as part of the natural biochemical process of breaking down compounds during metabolism.

These metabolites can be found in plasma, urine, tissue, plant and microbial extracts and abnormalities in cells can be detected using gas chromatography, liquid chromatography and capillary electrophoresis coupled with mass spectrometry.

Metabolites from chemical compounds can also be measured by fourier-transform ion cyclotron resonance mass spectrometry and nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy.

Metabolomics has been defined as the “systematic study of the unique chemical fingerprints that specific cellular processes leave behind”. When metabolic reactions occur the end products – or outputs are inputs to other chemical reactions. Looking at these can give a more complete picture of living organisms.

Some examples of chemicals ‘left behind’ include Ethanol, Glutamic acid, Aspartic acid5′, Guanylic acid, Isoascorbic acid, Acetic acid, Lactic acid Glycerol and Vitamin B2.

As a compound degrades (whether it is naturally occurring or pharmaceutical), its rate of degradation can be measured. In this way drug metabolism and its likely side effects can be determined. For example the metabolic response of key metabolites to specific drugs can help to identify processes that are altered as well as those that are being targeted by the drugs.

Metabolomics also shows how different cancer cell lines respond to new drugs.

The science of metabolomics can be applied to biomedical, agriculture, food and environmental sciences. And the Metabolomics Australia Melbourne node at the University of Melbourne offers:
• Analysis of a broad range of naturally occurring metabolites
• Analysis of specific metabolites or sets of metabolites relating to targeted metabolic pathways
• Bio-prospecting metabolites in plant, animal and microbial systems
• Data storage, library construction, bioinformatics analyses, quantification and statistical validation of metabolic variations and biomarker responses
• Bioinformatics approaches to integrated systems molecular profile analyses linking metabolomics data with corresponding genomics, transcriptomics and proteomics data, to give a more complete picture of living organisms.
• Comparisons of genotype/SNP patterns with metabolite profiles of drugs or other test compounds administered to relevant biological test systems.

For further information contact Zofia Felton: zfelton@unimelb.edu.au

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