Congratulations are in order as the University of Birmingham is the most recent university to expand the footprint of metabolic phenotyping research centres around the world.
As state-of-the-art metabolic phenotyping facilities able to conduct small-scale and large-scale studies in medical research and stratified medicine, the Phenome Centre Birmingham joins the MRC-NIHR National Phenome Centre at Imperial College London and the Singapore Phenome Centre at Nanyang Technological University as parallel research centers transforming scientific knowledge of causes and mechanisms of diseases at the intersection of patients’ genomes and environment.
Scientists have been studying the human genome for many years, seeking to understand the building blocks of DNA on which the human body is based. But, as Olivia Judson in the New York Times wrote in June 2010, “Genes are the easy part. The far harder task is to understand how genes interact with the environment to make an actual organism with particular characteristics.”
Phenomics is the study of the nexus of genes and the environment representing the next step to expanding the bounds of our knowledge of human health. By better understanding phenomes, we will be able to unlock the mysteries of the human condition. The study of phenomics can help us understand how our environment makes us more or less susceptible to heart disease, cancer, autism, diabetes, Alzheimer’s and other health conditions. It will enable governments and medical authorities to address global public health in ways not foreseen.
How does it work? A phenome describes a person’s internal chemistry, including all of the molecules that are a result of a person’s genetics and lifestyle. Research tells us that phenomes change frequently across our lifespan, often in response to environmental influences. These kinds of influences are wide-ranging. A person’s environment includes everything from the chemicals in their home and food to how much they exercise, stress levels, medication, vaccinations and more. Environmental factors have significant effects on a person’s tendency to specific diseases and conditions. Early research indicates the environment may play a role in the occurrence of conditions including heart disease, multiple sclerosis, autism and diabetes, among others.
As we learn more about the relationship between genetics and environment, scientists will be able to transform our understanding of physical characteristics and disease, enabling significant advances in medical treatments.
As director of the National Phenome Centre, Professor Jeremy Nicholson, Head of Department of Surgery & Cancer at Imperial College London, says, “Phenotyping is about taking that wealth of knowledge and trying to understand how the things we do and the way we live can affect our genetic make-up.”
The Birmingham centre is led by Professor Mark Viant, an internationally-recognized expert in metabolomics, which is focused on small molecule activities that contribute to broader phenotypes. His research spans from method development in analytical chemistry and bioinformatics through to the application of metabolomics to environmental toxicology. Integrating metabolomics and phenomics will help paint a more complete picture of what’s happening at the cellular and organism levels – whether that’s an understanding of the risk for or status of a disease or condition.
As a company dedicated to the advancement of science and our customers’ success, we at Waters are excited to partner with the pioneers in phenotyping. We believe phenotyping analysis will be a quantum leap in personalized medicine and are excited that Waters’ liquid chromatography, mass spectrometry, chemistries and informatics technologies will play a role in advancing our understanding of how our environment makes us more or less susceptible to disease.