Canadian scientists release first draft of human metabolome

University of Alberta Researchers cap the three-year $7.5 million Human Metabolome Project

Chris Anderson
EDMONTON, Alberta—Nearly three years in the making and $7.5million later, researchers at the University of Alberta here emerged from theirNMR and mass spectrometry laboratories to unveil the completion of the firstdraft of the human metabolome. The Human Metabolome Project cataloged andcharacterized,500 metabolites, 1,200 drugs and 3,500 food components with theexpectation that this information source will have a more immediate impact thanthe did the release of the complete human genome.
"This is not just a list of compounds and structures," saysDavid Wishart, project leader for The Human Metabolome Project. "It containsinformation about the genes and the proteins and compounds they act on, so itprovides that critical link of the metabolome to the genome which is asignificant development."
Near term, the central database is expected to savemetabolomic researchers time, as previously they would need to search thepublished literature for information on metabolites. Often, bits of informationon the same metabolite could be found in publications that occurred 20 or moreyears apart.
"The community was rather disconnected and disjointed andsome of that comes from not having a consolidated resource," says Wishart.
The database has been released in dribs and drabs over thepast couple of years, and the latest release of the human metabolome database(found at hmdb.ca) was the culminating event. Only one of three separatecomponents, HMDB is complemented by the food and drug databases FooDB(foodb.ca) and DrugBank (drugbank.ca).
Wishart says DrugBank, released lastyear was "a surprise hit" among pharma researchers since it tied the drugs totarget proteins.
Most likely future uses of the data would be to creatediagnostic tools, he says, pointing out that today's diagnostic testsbased on measuring metabolites in  blood or urine samples look for less thanone percent of know metabolites.
Better diagnostics for a wider range of metabolitesshould also be of interest to pharmaceutical companies while they conduct clinical trials. "Compliance is a big issue in clinical trails. So, ifpeople are following the regimen and don't improve, these new tests couldpotentially identify the ones that aren't taking the drug or who also may befast metabolizers. These are the things that are possible using thisinformation."
 

Chris Anderson

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