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The application of metabolomics to study steroid metabolism

Professor Wiebke Artl explains the application of metabolomics to study steroid metabolism
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PROFESSOR WIEBKE ARLT: Why do I apply metabolomics? So metabolomics is the new exciting thing because we are now in the post-genome area. We don’t want to only know what’s written in the genes, but we want to know– what kind of effects does this have? And the metabolome gives us exactly that. This is what the body does in response to what the genes and the environment tell the body, and this is where we apply the metabolome. And I personally– in my lab, we examine the steroid metabolome. So we look at all hormones that are produced by the body and in different organs and tissues within the body. So steroid metabolomics is an important method to us.
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For us, it’s an exciting discovery tool. Yeah? We have a screening method to see what’s going on in different health conditions. In our case, we obviously look both in disorders that are associated with steroid production, like disorders of the adrenals or of the gonads, but we are also very interested in cancer that is steroid-related. And that is not only traditional steroid-producing cancer– like adrenal cortical cancer– but it’s also other cancers, like prostate cancer, breast cancer, colon cancer, ovarian cancer.
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And applying metabolomics gives us a method to potentially see whether we can develop new diagnostic tools, new differential diagnostic tools, or whether we can also use steroid metabolomics for predicting the prognosis, how a patient responds to therapy, or whether the tumour comes back. And I think also further technology advances. Yeah? Like personally, I am interested in tissue metabolomics, like MALDI tissue imaging for metabolites so that we actually can look for the metabolome in tissue slices. Yeah? For example, in slices of a tumour that’s been removed from a patient. I would be very interested in that because that will give us an even better understanding of what is going on in the tumour itself. Yeah.
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So I think that’s the next thing that will come. And also, other technology advances like even higher throughput methods with even lower amounts of biological material needed for processing. So that we can apply this to large patient groups. Yeah? So that we can use it as a convenience screening tool. So patients don’t want to have blood drawn, for example. We can work with urine. We can work with all kinds of other materials. Yeah. Like in steroid metabolomics, we actually can do this also this tears, with cerebral spinal fluid, with hairs– with anything what we want. Massively. Yeah?
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So metabolomics, as I said in the beginning, is going to beyond genomics now, and we will be able to screen patients for the type of tumour they have and how they will be able to respond and similarly for other disorders. But for this– to achieve this, we need technological development, we need the understanding of the biology, and we need more integration of computer science because computer science really speeds up the development here.

Over the next few steps we will provide several examples of how scientists working in different biological areas are applying metabolomics to facilitate their research.

In this first examples Professor Wiebke Art, Director of the Institute of Metabolism and Systems Research at the University of Birmingham explains how metabolomics is aiding research in steroid metabolism and how metabolomics will be beneficial to the clinical research field in the future.

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Metabolomics: Understanding Metabolism in the 21st Century

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