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New era in metabolomics begins at University of Michigan

The University of Michigan Health System has earned a $9.1 million core grant from the National Institutes of Health to improve disease diagnosis through metabolic profiling.

With the support, the U-M will create the Michigan Regional Comprehensive Metabolomics Research Core, one of only three centers in the country that will help researchers examine small molecules called metabolites to detect changes in cell behavior and organ function.

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 and provides a wealth of information about nutrition, infection, health and disease status.

From diagnosis to disease follow-up, metabolomics may transform the ability to understand the mechanisms underlying disease and help investigators develop new strategies for treatment.

"Physicians and scientists around the world are beginning to realize that metabolic profiling will have a significant impact on the diagnosis, prevention and monitoring of many diseases," says Charles Burant, M.D., Ph.D., director of the Michigan Metabolomics and Obesity Center, and the Dr. Robert C. and Veronica Atkins Professor of Metabolism at the U-M.

Burant who is experienced in metabolomics, diabetes and obesity research is the principal investigator of the grant, with Stephen Brown, Ph.D., serving as program coordinator of the new regional metabolomics research core.

Several University of Michigan investigators will lead additional components of the core including Robert Kennedy, Ph.D., Hobart H. Willard Professor of Chemistry; Subramanian Pennathur, M.B.B.S., associate professor of internal medicine; Brian Athey, Ph.D., chair of the Department of Computational Medicine and Bioinformatics; Naisyn Wang, Ph.D., professor of statistics, and Barbara Mirel, Ph.D., associate research scientist at the School of Education. Grace Wu will serve as administrator.

It's hoped metabolomics will provide a path to personalized medicine, by offering insights into detection, prevention and treatment of a variety of diseases, including cancer, cardiovascular diseases and diabetes based on a patient's metabolic profile.

Over the next five years, the NIH expects to invest more than $51.4 million nationwide to accelerate metabolomics research.

The first round of NIH funding creates the three regional comprehensive metabolomics research cores. Others are at University of California-Davis and Research Triangle Institute in Research Triangle Park, N.C.

"This research initiative includes data-sharing and coordination with other metabolomics centers and researchers to develop standards for quality metabolomics work," says Brown, the program coordinator. "This will be a critical step as the discipline grows."

The NIH Common Fund is taking a comprehensive approach to boosting the field by funding a variety of initiatives, including training, technology development, standards synthesis, and data-sharing capability.

It's a shared goal of the U-M which will vastly enhance its research capacity in metabolomics with a planned expansion to the North Campus Research Complex. The Complex will serve as a hub for metabolomics research on campus, where proximity of metabolomics researchers is expected to enhance collaboration and speed basic research into better patient care.

The U-M's resource core will provide researchers nationwide with the expertise and infrastructure for metabolomics research, in addition to training opportunities.

Agilent Technologies and Human Metabolome Technologies will partner with the U-M on metabolic profiling instruments and software that can measure hundreds to thousands of unique metabolites.


Contact: Shantell M. Kirkendoll
University of Michigan Health System

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New era in metabolomics begins at University of Michigan
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