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DRC Director's Report - August 2023

The FOEDRC maintains two Core Research Facilities. FOEDRC scientists rely heavily on these two Core Research Facilities. These Cores are centralized laboratories that allow researchers to perform experiments needing specialized technologies in a time- and cost-efficient way. This month we focus our report on the world-class FOEDRC Metabolomics Core Facility.

Type 2 diabetes is a disease of metabolism. The body’s metabolism produces hundreds to thousands of small molecules by controlling chemical reactions throughout the body. These processes go awry in type 2 diabetes in a manner that results in elevated blood sugar levels. The FOEDRC Metabolomics Core aids researchers to better understand how changes in the body’s metabolism contribute to type 2 diabetes. 

Because the body’s metabolism includes thousands of chemical reactions that can differ across cells and tissue types, it can be extraordinarily complex and challenging to investigate. The FOEDRC Metabolomics Core Facility helps solve that problem. Studying diabetes metabolism is very complex and requires great expertise. We are fortunate that the FOEDRC Metabolomics Core is directed by a leading expert in diabetes metabolism, Dr. Eric Taylor, who has published his work on diabetes metabolism in leading journals and his research program is funded by grants from the NIH. Using state-of-the-art mass spectrometry, the FOEDRC Metabolomics Core measures the levels of over 300 metabolites from the metabolome in very small amounts of biological samples. 

An especially unique capability of the FOEDRC Metabolomics Core relate to a technique called isotope tracing. This technique allows scientists to follow a metabolic compound as it undergoes biochemical reactions in the body, thereby providing unparalleled insights into the metabolic pathways. This tracing technique reveals properties of metabolism that cannot be clearly observed by simply measuring metabolite levels and is especially important for understanding mechanisms of disease. 

The high-resolution mass spectrometers in the FOEDRC Metabolomics Core make isotope tracing and therefore a deeper investigation of diabetes metabolism possible. Currently, the FOEDRC Metabolomics Core analyzes about 500 samples per month, with the majority coming from the FOEDRC and other University of Iowa researchers. 

Nonetheless, as the capabilities of the FOEDRC Metabolomics Core have become more broadly recognized, we have begun to receive samples from external research scientists, including Iowa State University and 9 other Universities outside of Iowa. A major goal of the Core for the coming year is to develop cutting-edge assays with their new isotope ratio mass spectrometer. 

This instrument enables measurement of the total amount of different tracers in extremely small amount of sample. This is especially useful for measuring properties of metabolism like metabolic rate or how fast glucose is being used by the body. This could lead to the identification of novel targets to improve or develop new treatments for diabetes.

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