My favourite tool: Metabolomics

Say it again? That is the most common comment I get when I tell people that I am a researcher doing metabolomics analytics. The term may sound very exotic indeed when you hear it for the first time, but in reality there is no mystery in it. Metabolomics is an analytics that focuses on monitoring the everyday life biological processes. What it does differentially compared to the conventional analytical methods is, that it looks at those in much larger scope. Traditional analytical methods focus on individual or few compounds, but in reality any biological sample contains hundreds, even thousands of metabolites. For example in plasma, those metabolites have the potential to tell about the health status of the individual in wider manner than the conventional ones, and that is where metabolomics steps into the picture.

Metabolomics is very useful tool in biological research, and its biggest advance is that it can bring to light even such compounds that nobody knew exist! The mass-spectrometry based metabolomics approaches take into account all the chemical signals that can be measured from the sample, and therefore it enables novel discoveries. The analytical advancements during past years have enabled detection of larger variety of compounds than ever before, and typically almost every metabolomics analysis results in detection of novel, important compounds. This feature is particularly important in basic research when studying the mechanisms of diseases, early biomarkers for those, or effect of nutrition on health.

The second essential aspect of metabolomics is the wide variety of compounds it can encounter in one analytical assay. This is utilized particularly in the research focusing on personalized medicine or nutrition, aiming at finding the most suitable and effective treatment to an individual, which cannot be achieved if focusing only on a couple of compound s. Metabolomics, instead, offers wider possibilities than any other analytics before to monitor biochemicals efficiently, and therefore personalized approaches are clearly the area where it will be utilized more intensively in the future.

I am happy to work with such exiting technology that brings just the right amount of challenge and surprises to everyday working life. It is also nice to see that this excitement is currently spreading, and I am sure that more and more people will recognize the term metabolomics when I first mention it!


Leader of the Metabold team, Kati Hanhineva

Ph.D., Adj. Prof., Academy Research Fellow

Dept. of Clinical Nutrition, University of Eastern Finland