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 Funding Opportunity Announcements (FOAs) for metabolomics in cancer epidemiology research; however, EGRP encourages investigator-initiated grant applications in this area.

NCI's Small Business Innovation Research (NCI SBIRExternal Web Site Policy) program provides contract support for research and development of new or improved technologies and methodologies that have the potential to succeed as commercial products. The goal of the SBIR program is to stimulate technological innovation and increase small business participation in federally funded research.

NCI released a solicitation on August 1, 2016 (NOT-OD-16-123External Web Site Policy) for SBIR contract topicsExternal Web Site Policy that span an array of areas relevant to ongoing research priorities across the Institute. One of the proposed topics focuses specifically on metabolomics:

  • Methods and software integration of cancer metabolomics data with other -omic and imaging data (Topic #364External Web Site Policy)

Proposals are due by October 21, 2016, 5:00 PM EDT. Please direct all questions regarding contracts to the NCI Office of Acquisitions at

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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); National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS); and other agencies, including the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).

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NIH Metabolomics Interest Group

The Metabolomics Scientific Interest GroupExternal Web Site Policy was created to help stimulate more interest in the field and aims to bring interested NIH program officials, intramural investigators and others together. The group will have periodic webinars and seminars that highlight recent work in the field. Additionally, a listserv is used to communicate information on upcoming metabolomics-related seminars, funding opportunities, and other NIH activities and initiatives.

Any member of the scientific community who is interested in the field of metabolomics and keeping abreast of NIH metabolomics-related activities and initiatives, please consider joining the Metabolomics Scientific Interest Group.External Web Site Policy

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Research Resources

  • The National Institutes of Health Common Fund has invested over $111 million from 2012 to 2017 through the Metabolomics ProgramExternal Web Site Policy to increase the national capacity in metabolomics. 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 COnsortium of METabolomics Studies (COMETS) is an extramural-intramural partnership that promotes collaboration among prospective cohort studies that follow participants for a range of outcomes and perform metabolomic profiling of individuals. The aim of COMETS is to facilitate an open exchange of ideas, knowledge, and results in order to accelerate the study of metabolomics profiles associated with chronic disease phenotypes (e.g. heart disease, diabetes, cancer).
  • 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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