Most people want to know whether they are healthy and what they have to do to remain healthy as long as possible. Science has delivered many insights into how to live healthily and how to treat or prevent certain diseases. However, a lot is still unknown.
Genes predict the risk of developing certain diseases in an individual. However, genes do not indicate if, and when, such a disease will develop. This is also determined by environmental factors such as nutrition and lifestyle.
Measuring the metabolites in the blood can tell you what is going on in the body. Metabolites provide information about someone’s current health state. Metabolites are the result of the interplay between genes and these environmental factors. Metabolites are small chemical substances, like glucose or fats, that are products of the processes and reactions taking place within and between cells. Measuring metabolites therefore reveals information about such disturbances. Many of these metabolites are present in blood.
If many diseases can be early predicted with metabolomics, obtaining metabolic profiles for every person as a health monitoring approach becomes promising. The metabolic profile would give a warning before any symptoms appeared. “This kind of metabolic profile might be acquired in just a few years in a single drop of blood. In such way metabolomics can contribute to change healthcare in a fundamental manner,” says Thomas Hankemeier, professor of Analytical BioSciences at Leiden University.
Measuring all the relevant metabolites is a challenge. Researchers are already able to measure thousands of metabolites in blood and urine samples using advanced analytical technologies, also called metabolomics. Metabolomics can be used to find a combination of metabolic biomarkers that predict complex diseases, such as dementia. It is even more interesting to investigate the underlying chemical processes causing the disruption in the metabolic equilibrium, to resolve or compensate the disruptions before the disease develops; early diagnosis is helpful in that case.
The METABODELTA: three themes
In the METABODELTA program, three themes will be addressed. The first – “From metabolomics for discovery to clinical practice” – is focused on the translation of metabolomics discoveries to clinical and point-of-care applications. For that, novel technologies for large-scale metabolomics will be developed and implemented. In parallel, a robust and clinical metabolomics analyzer will be developed. The aim of the project is to integrate the metabolomics analysis steps into a small analyzer that can be used as a point-of-care metabolomics analyzer. These technologies will allow monitoring of the metabolic health state for diagnosis and choice of the proper intervention.
The second theme is focused on using metabolomics to assess risk of mortality and vulnerability in geriatric patients and population based cohorts of elderly. Secondly to monitor the response of older individuals to lifestyle changes and to understand the main metabolic processes determining such heterogenous responses. Thirdly to use metabolomics assays to generate surrogate markers for metabolic disease risk factors and endpoints. Using the metabolome as monitoring a tool to improve the health of our ageing society would help to stimulate vitality, especially in those at risk.
And finally, the third theme focuses on the development of novel preventive intervention strategies for dementia by understanding the interplay between the microbiome, blood metabolome and vascular and neuropsychiatric pathology.
In METABODELTA, leaders in the development of metabolomics technology and clinical diagnosis join with leaders who have access to unique cohorts and other clinical studies, to apply metabolomics in population and clinical studies to study healthy ageing. METABODELTA will make metabolomics more accessible within the Medical Delta. “Together we are bringing the ideal of growing old healthily into closer reach,” concludes Hankemeier.
This program also aims to make the data obtained in its research comparable to metabolomics data acquired by other labs worldwide, to validate findings, implement others’ findings into research being done in the Medical Delta, and ultimately, apply the data for the benefit of healthcare.