Liquids Analysis Techniques

Improving Biobank Sample Quality Using Metabolomics

Metabolomics refers to the study of small-molecule profiles in cells, tissues and organisms and approaches in this field have become valuable in the evaluation of the quality of biological samples.

With this in mind, a number of leading metabolomics research centers have now formed a consortium, referred to as the EXpert CEnter for METabolomics (EXCEMET).

EXCEMET aims to provide a reference infrastructure for biobanks by combining essential analytical and computational expertise in the field of metabolomics, with a view to strengthening the relationship between metabolomics and biobanking. The consortium’s main goal is to advance the field of metabolomics and help scientists to establish validated quality control measures, by using molecular profiling within biobanks.

As an expert center for metabolomics research and one of the most well-equipped NMR laboratories in the world, one of the establishments supporting EXCEMENT is the Center of Magnetic Resonance (CERM) in Florence.

In an interview, Associate Professor of Chemistry at CERM, Paola Turano, described the research she has been working on and how she hopes the consortium could contribute to improving biobank activities.

Turano has been studying biological samples using metabolomics by NMR and is also involved in biobanking activities. Together with a local foundation, Turano and colleagues have created a small biobank. This biobank forms part of the European BBMRI (Biobanking and BioMolecular resources Research Infrastructure) network and is also part of the national network of biobanks.

Turano explained that the biobank is mainly focused on metabolomics and that the team have developed standards of procedures internally that are very much focused on ensuring the quality of samples for use in metabolomic analysis:

“The idea is was to try to make adjustments, so we’ve also inserted an analysis by metabolomics, of the quality of samples, to show how different the samples are that come from different biobanks.”

The researchers found that the differences were in fact “huge,” with the origin of the samples being easily discriminated, as a function of the biobank. The hope is, that, by adopting the adjusted guidelines, it should be possible to obtain a more homogenous collection of samples, irrespective of which biobank samples have been handled at.

Turano hopes the combination of expertise in NMR, mass spectrometry and I.T., will lead to coordination of this initiative. This volunteer, non-profit consortium hopes to provide biobanks where metabolomics is used to validate procedures and verify the quality of samples. Turano sees CERM as one of the expert metabolomics centers that can achieve this for biobanks.

“The actions of EXCEMET will be very important in order to realize this project that BBMRI is proposing… of testing the quality of samples,” she says.

Turano believes EXCEMET can contribute to this analysis by involving people from many different fields to test the results of the biobank.

“It’s a good opportunity to demonstrate that metabolomics can be feasible, with very high quality and reproducibility,” she concludes.