Overview of techniques involved (e.g. 'omics')

4. Metabolomics

The metabolome is the entire set of small molecule metabolites in an organism, tissue or cell at any given time. The metabolome responds to many factors. These might include recent food intake, the menstrual cycle or the time of day. The metabolome can change over a period of just seconds or minutes. Metabolomics helps us identify what effect a medicine is having. It is a new emerging field of ‘omics’ research and its purpose is to find and describe the small molecule metabolites in an organism:

  • Small molecule metabolites are the molecules that make up the biochemistry of every cell.
  • They are the intermediates and the products of metabolism.
  • Their levels vary over time and they respond to thousands of internal and external factors.

Small molecule metabolites are below a certain size, which means they are able to cross cell membranes. Large molecules such as DNA, proteins and carbohydrates (such as starch) are therefore not included in this definition.

Metabolomics is now being used in some stages of medicines development even though it is a developing area. Metabolomic biomarkers can improve the non-clinical assessment of new medicines. They can also help in translational medicine, where exploratory research is translated into clinical research.