The notion of better together underlies the success of metabolomics in clinical diagnostics. Where a single marker is often insufficient to distinguish disease, the combinatorial power of several related biomarkers can provide increased sensitivity and specificity.

This is particularly true in cancer, where rogue cells take up nutrients and proliferate rapidly. Metabolic control is essential; and altered metabolism at the cellular level contributes to several serious diseases. Understanding the metabolic alterations leveraged by growing tumors may yield improved diagnostics and interventions. These intriguing developments are covered by the plenary session: “Metabolic Reprogramming in Human Cancer: Insights into Mechanisms and Opportunities for New Therapies,” on Monday, December 14 at 9:00 am Central.

This plenary session is presented by Ralph J. DeBerardinis, MD, PhD, an expert in the field of cancer metabolomics. During this session Dr. DeBerardinis presents his laboratory’s recent findings on metabolic perturbations in tumors.

“Some alterations are intrinsic to the cancer cells, and some extrinsic,” explains DeBerardinis. “In order to understand metabolic reprogramming in cancer, we need to mechanistically connect all the factors to specific pathways and then determine which pathways promote cancer progression. Those are the pathways we should try to target for therapy.”

DeBerardinis has published extensively in this field, including reports this year in Science, Nature and the New England Journal of Medicine. His research is closely integrated with clinical activities in medical genetics, oncology, and radiology. This provides multiple translational research opportunities to examine the relevance of his findings in patient care. “Metabolism is dynamic and responsive,” DeBerardinis says. “Metabolic activity and the levels of individual metabolites report on many different disease-related processes. This is why rational metabolic profiling can produce diagnostic and predictive information.”

Attendees have a chance to hear first-hand about the methods as well as the results of DeBerardinis’s research. “We use two complementary analytical techniques,” he explains. “Metabolomics and isotope tracing – to describe metabolic reprogramming in tumors. Metabolomics measures the steady-state levels of hundreds of metabolites simultaneously. Isotope tracing assesses the turnover of metabolites in particular pathways of interest. Together, these approaches can provide a detailed comparison of metabolism between tumors and adjacent tissue.”

These findings underlie the new intra-operative metabolomic methods and context-specific interventions DeBerardinis’s team is investigating.