When you think of the word metabolism, you most likely think of the method by which your body processes food to create energy. But science looks at the entire metabolic process, including the end product it creates, known as metabolites, on a cellular level. The result is a discipline known as metabolomics, which research suggests could have a significant impact on the future of aging.
The way our bodies metabolize food and other organic compounds is vital to our overall health. Traditionally, scientists and medical professionals have only been able to examine a small number of metabolites to diagnose disorders that involve many. Metabolomic technology and practices on the other hand can look at a far greater number of metabolites than clinical chemistry techniques and are far more accurate.
This has major implications for the practice of precision medicine, a term used to describe the customization of healthcare delivery so that medical decisions, treatments, practices, or products are tailored to the needs of an individual patient.
According to a study published in the journal Cold Spring Harbor Medical Case Studies, metabolomics can enable precision medicine by including the characterization of metabolic irregularity that can lead to disease. It can also lead to the discovery of new therapeutic targets and biomarkers that can be used to either diagnose disease or monitor activity of therapeutics.
Metabolites are essentially reporters of disease biomarkers. Their presence has been shown to be related to pathogens, but the typical timeframe for identification of a pathogen, development of human clinical trials and finally clinical tests, is long. In order for precision medicine to become a reality, that timeframe has to be shortened and the key to doing that is metabolomics.
What Do Metabolites Have to Do with Aging?
Conditions common to the aging population, including Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s and frailty all have biomarkers that appear in metabolites before the diseases progress to advanced states.
A Canadian study will look at the metabolomic profiles of more than 10,000 older adults in an attempt to identify the biomarkers of frailty. The goal is to understand disease progression and to observe metabolic changes that occur with aging in a large population, so that it may be possible to characterize a healthy metabolome.
While genetics can typically reveal a person’s risk of disease, metabolomics differs in that it integrates genetic and nongenetic information, including lifestyle, diet and the details of their microbiome. As a result, it has the potential to help us build a more complete picture of a person’s health.
This can happen at a much faster rate than current clinical technology can offer, providing a road toward treatment that keeps up to date with health status in real time, rather than being reactionary in nature.
Metabolomics technology platforms are now in development that will allow researchers to gather metabolomic data and analyze it faster than anyone in the scientific community could have dreamed just a few decades ago. As a result, this emerging science is set to play a big role in understanding the processes by which age related diseases develop and how our bodies age naturally.