Targeted and non-targeted metabolomics by means of NMR spectroscopy

Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy (NMR) is a highly informative analytical method that is particularly suitable for metabolome studies. It can be used to determine a variety of molecule species and can be employed both for targeted and non-targeted metabolomics. The NMR Metabolomics research group is developing NMR methods for both approaches: Targeted analyses of established metabolite sets may be useful for early diagnosis of diseases or for monitoring therapeutic outcomes, while non-directed analyses may be used for studying biochemical networks and unknown metabolic pathways.

For example, the group is developing new NMR probe heads for the investigation of mass and volume-restricted samples such as minimal organ models, which precisely mimic the function required for an application. An example of such a model are the so-called spheroids, spherical structures that can be used to investigate transport processes. One focus of research is the non-targeted analysis of metabolic processes in living cell culture models, by means of which the response of the cells to toxic or pharmacological influences can be tested. For this purpose, the group has developed a microchip in which the cells are supplied with vital nutrients and thus can be examined over a longer period.

In collaboration with the Leibniz research Centre for working environment and human factors (IfADo) in Dortmund, the group is also investigating the possibility to differentiate between different types of breast cancer using microstrip NMR. The long-term goal of the work is a diagnostic method by which a tissue sample can be used to better characterise cancer diseases and to better adapt their treatment to individual patients. The method, a targeted search for certain disease markers, is based on magic angle spinning (MAS) NMR, which is however too costly for a routine use in the clinic. Therefore, the group wants to develop a device that is more cost-effective and easier to handle: The rotation of the sample typical for MAS is to be simulated by rapid reversals of the magnetic field, and the sample is to be transferred directly into the sample chamber without further preparation in the biopsy needle.

In addition, the research group is developing miniaturised NMR systems, which can also be developed on a mobile basis in order to detect known substances in samples – for instance in point-of-care diagnostics or even in quality and safety checks.