Diagnosing, detecting, and predicting diseases just got six million times easier

Federal funding to UAlberta will help stimulate metabolomics industry

Jennifer Pascoe - 09 January 2017

The Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI) just gave a $6 million vote of confidence to medical research in the burgeoning field of metabolomics with this morning's announcement of funding for Canada's national metabolomics laboratory, the Metabolomics Innovation Centre (TMIC), hosted at the University of Alberta.

Metabolomics provides scientists with a powerfully precise route to study drug metabolism, gene-environment interactions, and biochemical processes. "Metabolomics uses some of the latest techniques in analytical chemistry and computational biology to measure the chemicals that living organisms need-such as amino acids and vitamins-as well as the chemicals that living organisms are exposed to, such as drugs, pesticides, and pollutants," says David Wishart, professor in the University of Alberta Faculty of Science and lead of TMIC. "It is shining a new light on how chemicals affect human, animal, and plant health and leading to some really innovative approaches for diagnosing and predicting disease."

Economic impact

Though the field of metabolomics is relatively new, its applications are already being seen in many disciplines including disease diagnostics, agriculture food and safety, and pharmaceutical research and development. These applications are leading to the discovery of many biomarkers and the development of improved screening methods. The economic impact of metabolomics is expected to be worth roughly $3 billion annually by the year 2020.

"This new funding will give TMIC the long-term stability it needs to make both Alberta and Canada a real leader in metabolomics research and development," says Wishart. "It will allow hundreds of scientists from across Canada to come train and conduct research at TMIC and to make metabolomics an integral part of their research program. It will also foster the growth of Canada's emerging metabolomics industry, where made-in-Canada ideas and technologies can be used in precision medicine, precision farming, and environmental monitoring."

TMIC has helped discover better methods for diagnosing, detecting, and predicting diseases such as diabetes, colon cancer, pre-eclampsia, and Alzheimer's disease. TMIC provides researchers with world-class resources for conducting metabolomics research including testing and training facilities, carefully validated experimental protocols, advanced bioinformatics tools, and scientific expertise.

Professor David Wisharts stands in front of the Metabolomics Innovation Centre (TMIC)

"Metabolomics is shining a new light on how chemicals affect human, animal, and plant health and leading to some really innovative approaches for diagnosing and predicting disease.." -David Wishart

World-class resources

In addition to its extensive collection of advanced analytical equipment, TMIC has developed and now maintains most of the world's key metabolomic data resources and analysis tools, including the Human Metabolome Database, DrugBank, the Toxic Exposome Database, Phenol-Explorer, CFM-ID, and MetaboAnalyst. These foundational metabolomics resources are accessed roughly 15 million times a year by users in more than 120 countries.

Additionally, the University of Alberta will receive funding for astroparticle physics research as a partner in the SNOLAB project with Queen's University and the Sudbury Neutrino Observatory, funded today for $28.6M.

The Minister of Science, the Honourable Kirsty Duncan, made the announcement today as part of CFI's Major Science Initiatives Fund, a program that ensures Canada's large, complex research facilities that serve researchers have the support they need to remain operating at the cutting edge.

"Our government's investment in these remarkable, world-class facilities demonstrates the value we place in the role that science plays in building a vibrant, healthy society. Today's announcement also supports our hard-working scientists so they may continue collaborating in these large-scale laboratories and facilities to further our knowledge and understanding of the world. Through investments like this, our government is supporting leading-edge research essential to creating jobs, improving health care and growing the middle class." -Hon. Kirsty Duncan, Minister of Science

In total, projects at 17 national research facilities located across the country were funded for more than $328 million. Detailed information about the 17 projects funded across the country is available at Innovation.ca.