New technique to study the metabolism

This graphic image simulates the metabolic fluxes in cells, with the nutrients marked with a stable isotope that allow to study the fluxes and the transformation dynamics of these nutrients.

This graphic image simulates the metabolic fluxes in cells, with the nutrients marked with a stable isotope that allow to study the fluxes and the transformation dynamics of these nutrients.


A study published this week in the journal Angewandte Chemie presents a new methodology that uses Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) to study cell metabolism.

The technology was developed by scientist Òscar Yanes in the Metabolomics Platform, a facility created by the Univeristat Rovira i Virigili (URV) in Tarragona (Spain) and CIBERDEM, with the collaboration of IRB Barcelona group leader Travis Stracker and former PhD student Suvi Aivio. 

The tool makes it possible to monitor metabolic fluxes more quickly than previous methods. In just 10 minutes it can provide dynamic information about a considerable number of key metabolites. It could be used in the future to augment existing technologies in order to help understand the biology of cancer and metabolic diseases.

Stracker and Yanes strengthened their collaboration in 2015 after Yanes was named Affiliated Member in IRB Barcelona's Molecular Medicine programme. Stracker's lab was investigating the functions of an uncharacterized mitochondrial protein that appeared to alter cancer cell metabolism.

They consulted with Òscar Yanes to perform some analysis to track the use of different carbon sources, glucose and glutamine, to generate important metabolites. "This requires a highly specialized technique that is both expensive and time consuming, but it is also very informative and few facilities around the world are able to do this well", explains Stracker.

Suvi Aivio prepared the samples for analysis that were used to develop the technique. "It provided us with important information for our own study and we will feature it in a future publication", states the IRB Barcelona researcher Travis Stracker.

Maria Vinaixa, first author of the study, and Òscar Yanes, explain that with this methodology “we exploit the full power of NMR in terms of its sensitivity and coverage of the metabolome”, they conclude.

More information:

Link to Angewandte Chemie

Link to full press release by URV (English)

Link to Gaceta Médica (Spanish)