Joining Forces: Rise of the Omics

Our series profiling academia–industry collaborations continues by looking at how Thermo Fisher Scientific is supporting the University of Birmingham’s metabolomics research program.

With Mark Viant, Professor of Metabolomics, University of Birmingham, UK and Iain Mylchreest, vice president, R&D, analytical instruments, Thermo Fisher Scientific

August 2017

Tell us about your project…

Mark Viant: We have two metabolomics research centers here at the University of Birmingham – the Phenome Centre Birmingham, which is a £8 million research center opened by UK Government Chief Scientific Adviser Professor Sir Mark Walport in May 2016, and the Birmingham Metabolomics Training Centre. Thermo Fisher Scientific is technology partner with both of those research centers and with the University’s proteomics program. Helen Cooper, a professor of mass spectrometry here at Birmingham, leads the proteomics part of the relationship, while Rick (Warwick) Dunn and I lead the metabolomics side. Rick and I have a joint lab with about 25 PhDs, postdocs and technicians, and we direct both the training center and the Phenome Centre.

Phenome Centre-Birmingham (PCB) conducts metabolic phenotyping (metabolomics) studies across the breadth of human health research. We apply both non-targeted and targeted metabolomic approaches to study human diseases and aging in large-scale studies to translate into stratified medicine, ultimately benefiting both UK and global populations. Specifically we use these approaches to measure the “metabolome” of patients – the set of naturally occurring metabolites in cells, tissue or biofluids such as plasma or urine. The big data that is generated is then analyzed using bioinformatics and biostatistical tools to understand molecular mechanisms associated with disease onset and progression, and to identify clinically relevant metabolic markers (biomarkers) that could be used to stratify the human population in terms of disease risk and choice of drug treatment. Current projects include metabolomics studies of reproductive medicine, blood cancers, trauma and organ transplantation.

Thermo Fisher works with us on a number of levels. They currently fund multiple Cooperative Awards in Science & Technology (CASE) PhDs in metabolomics here in Birmingham that provide a bedrock for our collaboration. As well as input from Thermo Fisher on the scientific direction of these projects, the PhD students visit the Thermo Fisher analytical laboratories, spending time working with their scientists – that’s a pretty deep interaction and a great experience for the students, who are more used to an academic research environment. We also beta-test some of their instrumentation and software – and that means we get early access!