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Metabolic changes caused by illness, diet or medication can be monitored and understood

During metabolism, molecules are created and broken up, and some of these have an effect on health. Their concentrations are measured from blood, urine and tissue samples. Metabolomics enables the detection of biomarkers that can give an indication of a person’s lifestyle, diet, illnesses and the effects of medication and other xenobiotics.

“Metabolomics enables the comprehensive observation of metabolic phenomena. This gives us an extremely good idea of the body’s biochemical state,” says Professor Seppo Auriola, of the School of Pharmacy of the University of Eastern Finland. Auriola is also the head of the LC-MS Metabolomics Center in Kuopio, which is part of Biocenter Finland’s infrastructure network.

As metabolomics measurement methods become increasingly efficient, more accurate measurement data will be obtained on the effects of people’s lifestyles and environment on their health. Diet is a key external factor affecting a person’s metabolism.

“We can examine whether a positive lifestyle change also affects metabolite levels. This would be an indication that the body is doing better. Metabolomics can also be used to detect disease biomarkers at an early stage, before diseases actually occur.” says Professor Seppo Auriola.

A lot of computing power is required to process large amounts of data. Metabolic products studied by means of mass spectrometry are first ionised. These ions are separated from each other on the basis of their mass-to-charge ratio. According to Lehtonen, Laboratory Manager of the School of Pharmacy, the identification of molecular characteristics is the last stage in metabolomics, based on the attempt to clearly identify a statistically different metabolite between two or more groups being studied. Lehtonen would prefer a model in which laboratory and research data were used as a basis for machine learning.

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