Human metabolism map aims to advance personalized medicine

An international team of researchers has created a "Google map" of human metabolism--an important step in understanding the underlying causes of disease. One of its most promising uses will be in helping to develop personalized treatments, the researchers say.

The map, called Recon 2, has been compared to Google's maps for its ability to merge complex details into a single, interactive map. It allows researchers to zoom in to see finely detailed images of individual metabolic reactions, or zoom out to look at patterns and relationships among pathways or different sectors of metabolism, according to an announcement from the University of California, San Diego.

"Recon 2 allows biomedical researchers to study the human metabolic network with more precision than was ever previously possible," said Bernhard Palsson, Galletti Professor of Bioengineering at UCSD's Jacobs School of Engineering. "This is essential to understanding where and how specific metabolic pathways go off track to create disease … It's like having the coordinates of all the cars in town, but no street map. Without this tool, we don't know why people are moving the way they are."

The research, published in Nature Biotechnology, involved scientists from the U.K., Iceland, Germany, the U.S., and elsewhere. The project involved mapping 65 different human cell types and half of the 2,600 enzymes that are known drug targets, according to an announcement from the University of Manchester.

The work built on 2007 research from UC San Diego known as Recon 1, that documented more than 3,300 known biochemical reactions. Recon 2 contains more than 7,400 reactions. Despite the progress, however, the map is far from complete. It contains just 1,800 of an estimated 20,000 protein-coding genes in the human genome.

The map has been made free to the public and can be found here.

Understanding how a particular patient responds to a given drug is the idea behind a a simulation using IBM's Blue Gene supercomputer designed to show on a quantum-mechanical level how a drug inhibits a target enzyme.

Other efforts to develop personalized medicine involve genomic research. That's the idea behind Mayo Clinic's partnership with a diagnostics company, Silicon Valley Biosystems (SV Bio), and Children's Hospital Boston's for-profit venture with genome-sequencing giant Life Technologies.

To learn more:
- find the UC San Diego announcement
- here's the research
- read the Manchester announcement
- check out related website

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