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Fields & Applications Data Analysis, Metabolomics & Lipidomics

Black-Box Data Analysis for Spatial Metabolomics

In recent years, metabolomics has been recognized as a field of major importance that promises to advance our understanding of cell biology, physiology, and medicine. Metabolites are the ‘small cogs’ in the cellular machinery and consist of small molecules that are ingested, altered, and catalyzed within the cellular machinery, including not only those molecules synthesized within cells but also those gained from the environment, such as vitamins and nutrients. Such molecules are indicative of cellular processes both from the underlying genetics, cell differentiation and the immediate environmental pressures – and they provide a real-time read out of the state of individual cells and cell populations. Cellular activity can be highly spatially localized and so being able to image markers of metabolic activity may provide researchers with new perspectives on biological problems. Traditional methods often treat samples as homogeneous bulk materials, but this risks missing important biological information; for example, the degree of penetration of an anti-cancer drug into a tumor or a secretion of an antibiotic in proximity to invading bacteria.

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About the Authors

Andrew Palmer

Andrew Palmer is an early career scientist who received his PhD from the University of Birmingham, UK, in 2014. He has undertaken postdoctoral work at the University of Bremen, Germany, and is currently a postdoctoral fellow at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory, Heidelberg, Germany in the Alexandrov Team. His research combines both experimental chemical analysis and advanced bioinformatics in order to map the distributions of molecules within samples and translate the big chemical data produced into biologically meaningful information.

Theodore Alexandrov

Theodore Alexandrov received a PhD in mathematics in Russia in 2007, did his postdoc at the University of Bremen, Germany, where he became a group leader at the Center for Industrial Mathematics and the head of its MALDI Imaging Lab. Since 2010, he has been a visiting researcher at University of California San Diego. Alexandrov is also a co-founder and the scientific director of the company SCiLS. Since 2014, he has been a team leader at European Molecular Biology Laboratory in Heidelberg with a research program on spatial metabolomics. The Alexandrov Team at EMBL develops novel tools of computational biology that reveal spatial organization of metabolic processes by exploiting high-throughput metabolic imaging and by translating the big data generated into biological knowledge.

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