Metabolomics in Population-Based Research


Metabolomics is the study of small molecules of both endogenous and exogenous origin, such as metabolic substrates and their products, lipids, small peptides, vitamins and other protein cofactors generated by metabolism, which are downstream from genes. This approach has received more attention in recent years as an ideal methodology to unravel signals closer to the culmination of the disease process. The compounds identified through metabolomic profiling represent a range of intermediate metabolic pathways that may serve as biomarkers of exposure, susceptibility, or disease. In short, it is a valuable approach for deciphering metabolic outcomes with a phenotypic change.

Until recently, metabolomics and other post-genomic platforms, such as proteomics and transcriptomics, have not been suitable for large-scale, high-throughput epidemiologic applications. Studies that employed metabolomics technologies have focused on toxicological, physiological, and disease responses in animal models and small-scale human studies. This has been due mainly to the limited capacity of the analytical platforms for sample throughput and the processing requirements for the enormous amounts of data created.

Improved sample preparation, robotic sample-delivery systems, automated data processing, and use of multivariate statistical and chemometric methods, with associated reductions in cost, are now allowing researchers to realize the potential for metabolic phenotyping in epidemiology. Investigators have begun to extend these studies to larger-scale population studies for biomarker discovery. With these studies comes the challenge of applying metabolomics technologies in a manner that generates meaningful results. Epidemiologists must strive to comprehensively understand the principles of metabolomics to determine when it is appropriate to use biomarkers identified using this technology, which includes the ability to determine when biomarkers have been validated sufficiently.

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Funding Opportunities

There are not currently any specific NCI Requests for Applications (RFAs) or Program Announcements (PAs) for metabolomics research. However, the NCI Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) ProgramExternal Web Site Policy announced new contract funding opportunities in a range of novel technology areas, including:

EGRP joins with other National Cancer Institute (NCI) Divisions, Offices, and Centers and other Institutes and Centers at the NIH to fund grant applications submitted in response to FOAs. View the full list of EGRP FOAs.

EGRP also encourages investigator-initiated grant applications on metabolomics topics.

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Metabolomics and Epidemiology Working Group

The Metabolomics and Epidemiology (MetEpi) Working Group was established in 2012 to promote strategies to establish additional capacity to support metabolomics analyses in population-based studies, as well as to advance the field of metabolomics for broader biomedical and public health research.

The Working Group will also serve to develop, facilitate and support new and existing approaches for the use of metabolomics technologies in epidemiology research studies across various disease states through the missions of the National Cancer Institute (NCI); the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK); other NIH Institutes such as the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI); and other agencies, including the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).

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Research Resources

  • Through the NIH Common Fund's Increasing Metabolomics Research Capacity programExternal Web Site Policy, the NIH has committed more than $65 million to accelerate the field of metabolomics over the next five years. The goal of this funding program is to advance several core areas, including comprehensive metabolomics resource cores, metabolomics technology development, metabolomics reference standards synthesis, and training and educational activities in metabolomics. This investment will provide researchers with opportunities to increase the use of metabolomics in population-based studies, which will allow for broader biomedical and public health applications, including biomarker discovery, dietary assessment, and pharmacometabolomics, among others.
  • The University of California San Diego's Metabolomics WorkbenchExternal Web Site Policy, a resource sponsored by the NIH Common Fund, is a scalable and extensible informatics infrastructure which serves as a national metabolomics resource.
  • The MetEpi Yammer Network has been established as platform for epidemiologists, biochemists, biostatisticians, and other scientists interested in metabolomics research to communicate and collaborate securely. It also serves as a platform to share NIH metabolomics-related information.

    To join the MetEpi Yammer Network, contact Dr. Krista Zanetti.

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Metabolomics Meetings and Workshops

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