Medical Matters > Metabolomics

ME Essential Summer 2018


What is metabolomics? And why is the MEA funding research into metabolomics?


Metabolomics describes the way in which scientists study what is called metabolism – chemical reactions that take place at a cellular level and which are involved in everything the body does. By measuring the amount of metabolites (small molecules) that are produced by our bodies as we convert food into energy, and other cells that our bodies need to survive, we can assess what is happening at a cellular level in both health and disease.

Metabolomics technology is ‘large-scale’ meaning that several thousand metabolites can be measured from a single sample of blood or urine. It has become a hot topic in ME/CFS research because Dr. Ron Davis in America and several independent teams are using it to show metabolic differences between people who have the disease and healthy controls. This certainly makes sense based on what we know about the underlying disease process and people with ME/CFS not having the energy to perform the functions they always could.

Studying the metabolism is incredibly complex and it can vary a lot even in healthy individuals, so it’s important to collect as much data as possible from large numbers of people. More metabolomics data will help us to understand what exactly is going wrong (or if different things are going wrong in different sub-groups of people with ME/CFS), help to identify diagnostic metabolic biomarkers and, hopefully, point to treatments that can compensate for any of the defects that are found.

This is why the ME Association Ramsay Research Fund is funding some UK research into metabolomics and ME/CFS in Oxford. Dr. Karl Morten will be working alongside Dr. James McCullagh, Associate Professor in Mass Spectrometry at the University of Oxford. This research will also try to replicate the findings from an important 2016 study by Dr. Robert Naviaux et al, which suggested that ME/CFS could be caused by the body going into a state of semi-hibernation. Funding for this research has come largely from the 2016 ME Association Christmas Appeal which raised £70,000. Total investment = £100,000.



The three main purposes of metabolism are:

  1. the conversion of the energy in food to energy available to run cellular processes,
  2. the conversion of food to building blocks for proteins, lipids, nucleic acids, and some carbohydrates,
  3. the elimination of metabolic wastes.

These enzyme-catalysed reactions allow organisms to grow and reproduce, maintain their structures, and respond to their environments. The word metabolism can also refer to the sum of all chemical reactions that occur in living organisms, including digestion and the transportation of substances into and between different cells. Metabolic reactions may be categorized as catabolic – the breaking down of compounds (for example, of glucose to pyruvate by cellular respiration); or anabolic – the building up (synthesis) of compounds (such as proteins, carbohydrates, lipids, and nucleic acids). Usually, catabolism releases energy, and anabolism consumes energy.

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Information provided by The ME Association should not be construed as medical advice. Don't assume any new or worsened symptoms are simply the result of having ME/CFS or Long Covid. We recommend that any information you deem relevant is discussed with your NHS GP as soon as possible. It is important that you seek personalised medical advice from the GP who is in charge of your care and who knows you well.

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