New centre to bring metabolomics to the clinic

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  • Published: Nov 14, 2012
  • Author: Jon Evans
  • Channels: Detectors / Proteomics & Genomics / HPLC

Imperial College London has set up a new research centre, called the Imperial Clinical Phenome Centre, that will apply the latest metabolomics technology to the real-time diagnosis of disease.

The new centre will look to develop novel technologies and methods for analysing the metabolites in bodily fluids such as blood and urine as a way to diagnose disease and determine its progression, as disease can have an important effect on metabolite composition. These novel technologies and methods with be based on liquid chromatography, capillary electrophoresis, mass spectrometry and NMR spectroscopy. However, they will be adapted for use in the clinic or operating theatre, providing physicians and surgeons with useful, real-time diagnostic information.

For example, Zoltan Takats, a reader in medical mass spectrometry at Imperial, is developing an 'intelligent knife' that can analyse the smoke produced when an electrically-heated surgical blade cuts into tissue during an operation. Research shows that the profile of the chemicals in the smoke can provide detailed information about the disease state of the tissue, such as whether it is cancerous, or otherwise diseased or non-viable.

'These analytical technologies are now very mature and are immensely powerful for telling us about someone's physical condition and disease state,' said Jeremy Nicholson, head of the Department of Surgery and Cancer at Imperial. 'Bringing them fully into the clinical setting will help doctors make a more informed diagnosis, choose the best treatment based on the individual characteristics of the patient, and monitor their progress more precisely. It is the dawn of a new age of "precision medicine".'

The centre is being jointly funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR), the Imperial Biomedical Research Centre and the analytical instrument companies Waters and Bruker. It will be equipped with three nuclear magnetic resonance spectrometers and six mass spectrometers, and will work closely with the existing Medical Research Council-NIHR Phenome Centre, which uses metabolomics data for population screening.

Several researchers involved with the new centre, including Nicholson and Takats, have written a review that appears in the latest edition of Nature highlighting the promise of metabolomics for disease diagnosis.

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