Metabolomics is the study of low molecular weight molecules or metabolites found within cells and biological systems. The metabolome is a measure of the inputs and outputs of biological pathways and, as such, is often considered more representative of the functional state of a cell than other ‘omics measures such as genomics or proteomics. In addition, many metabolites are conserved across various animal species, facilitating the extrapolation of research findings in laboratory animals to humans. Common technologies for measuring the metabolome include mass spectrometry (MS) and nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy (NMR), which can measure hundreds to thousands of unique chemical entities (UCE).
Despite early promise, challenges remain before the full potential of metabolomics can be realized. Existing metabolomics facilities are at capacity, with relatively few scientists who possess in-depth expertise in metabolomics, and a derth of training opportunities to gain that expertise. Some companies provide metabolomics services and limited standards; however, issues with cost, intellectual property rights, and limited profit incentives minimize their use in basic, clinical, and translational research.
To address these challenges, the Common Fund Metabolomics Program is increasing research capacity through the following program components:
Comprehensive Metabolomics Resource Cores
Goal: To create National Comprehensive Metabolomics Resource Cores, expanding on existing nationally funded metabolomics resources. This initiative will allow institutions to expand and improve their capacity to conduct comprehensive metabolomics studies by adding and improving instrumentation, expanding faculty expertise, and developing new training programs to meet the need for expertise.
Training in Metabolomics
Goal: To increase the number of investigators with metabolomics expertise by supporting interdisciplinary training involving a diverse set of training vehicles that match career stage and goals. This initiative will support early and mid-career development awards with an emphasis on encouraging collaborations between basic and clinical investigators.
Metabolomics Technology Development
Goal: To address current limitations in metabolomics technologies so they can be easily adapted by other laboratories. Areas addressed may include, but are not limited to: increasing the number, quantitative accuracy, specificity, and throughput of molecular identification; increasing the identification of specific classes of metabolites including lipids and non-polar molecules; increasing the ability to measure more UCEs; and decreasing sample volume, costs, and time to make accurate metabolomics measurements.
Metabolomics Reference Standards Synthesis
Goal: To increase the repertoire of chemically identifiable metabolites through the synthesis of reliable metabolic standards. Data generated from these standards can be deposited into existing databases to expand the identities of the metabolite repertoire and serve as a resource for the entire metabolomics community.
Data Sharing and International Collaboration will be important aspects of this program.