Metabolomics in drug and biomarker discovery

Metabolomics is the state-of-the-art qualitative or quantitative analysis of metabolites present in biological samples. Since the majority of diseases are associated with metabolic alterations – either as a cause or result of the disease process – metabolomics is increasingly being used in drug and biomarker discovery.


Metabolites are essential components of every living organism, providing cellular energy as well as structural and signalling functions. For example, metabolites encompass biochemical classes such as nucleotides, amino acids, carbohydrates and lipids, which are the building blocks of DNA/RNA, proteins, glycogen and cellular membranes, respectively. Metabolites are both end products of metabolism (eg, enzymatic activities) and derive from the environment (eg, gut microbiota, diet, medications). Changes in the levels or composition of metabolites determine the phenotype of a biological system, which is associated with a specific physiological and pathological state.  

Can we measure metabolites to assess health and disease?

In ancient times, metabolites in human samples were examined by taste or smell as part of a medical assessment. For example, diabetes was diagnosed by detecting a sweet taste to the urine. Over time there has been an exponential growth in our ability to use more sophisticated analytical approaches for the accurate measurement of an increasing number of metabolites in biological samples.

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