Why Lipidomics is so Important

Posted on March 05, 2020

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Lipidomics, or the comprehensive analysis of a cell or organism’s lipid profile, is a subgroup within the metabolomics field. It’s developing rapidly into a discipline of its own, thanks to the fresh perspective it’s bringing to the scientific community. The common misconception that’s being currently addressed in the field, and allowing this growth, is that lipids are nothing more than fat molecules—recent technological advances are being used by researchers to dissect and study lipid profiles like never before, proving that they’re so much more than that.

What Are Lipids, and Why Are They Important?

Lipids are complex biomolecules. These structurally and functionally diverse organic compounds are strictly hydrophobic, meaning that they don’t interact with or dissolve in water. In addition to their structural role, lipids play an important role in metabolic regulation, acting as second messengers in many cellular signaling pathway.

Some common examples of lipids include:

  • Fatty Acids
  • Glycerolipids
  • Glycerophospolipids
  • Sphingolipids
  • Steroids

The field of genomics is centered around genes that are, for the most part, final at birth. Lipids, however, are a variant of metabolism, or part of the metabolism. They constantly change and are influenced by various states, including the consumption of certain foods and disease. Changes in lipid structure, function, and expression can induce diseases like metabolic disorders, cancer, and cardiovascular disease. This information is not new to the scientific community—but the advanced tools necessary to study and obtain an in-depth analysis of lipids at the molecular level have previously not been available.

Through the study of the localization and expression of the entire lipid profile, lipidomics offers a thorough understanding of the channels through which lipids function as part of a biological system. Now, there’s potential to identify previously unknown disease biomarkers. This potential could mean improving the diagnosis of lipid-related diseases, developing new pharmacological therapeutics, and continuing to pave the way to personalized medicine.

Lipidomics Applications

The growing subgroup of lipidomics has the potential to reshape our current approaches to diagnosing medical conditions, and providing new research opportunities for therapeutic development. Neurodegenerative disorder research, for example, is an area in which uncertainty surrounding the etiology of certain diseases has stunted progress in developing treatments, despite the field’s intense research efforts from a protein and gene-centric perspective. This field, in particular, is seeing an increasing number of scientists adopting lipidomics analysis.

Lipidomics also has great potential to help with product assessments in the cosmetic, beauty, and dermatology industries. Companies in these industries want to claim that their products improve your skin, but they’ve lacked the methodology to prove it. They’ve been relying instead on studies in which they ask the general public whether or not they’d recommend the product—compelling, but not quite as compelling as scientific evidence. Now, these companies are very interested in harnessing lipidomics and are exploring the field on their own—as are many industries and already-established “omics” fields.

How to Study the Lipidome

Quantifying and identifying lipid molecules is not easy—they’re complex and diverse in structure. Several techniques are used together to provide the entire spectrum of lipidome analysis from the fields of analytical chemistry, genomics, and bioinformatics. Spectroscopy, mass spectrometry (MS), and chromatography are all commonly adopted methods. The exact mix of techniques used depends on what the researcher wants to conduct: global lipid analysis profiling, or targeted lipidome analysis.

When analyzing lipids, one approach is first to extract lipids from a sample. Separate them prior to MS analysis using chromatography techniques, like thin layer chromatography, gas chromatography, or high-performance lipid chromatography. Chromatography, paired with MS, enables the detection and separation of lipids that are structurally similar and in the same class.

However, there’s a large amount of diversity across lipid species, as well as a wide variety of expression levels across cells. This means that several time-consuming runs are required to achieve large scale lipid analysis using this method alone.

An approach referred to as “shotgun” lipidomics allows for high-throughput untargeted lipid analysis. In this process, a sample is ionized prior to MS lipid detection. Historically, electrospray ionization (EIS) MS has worked better than other ionization methods, achieving much success in lipidomics. It’s for this reason that “shotgun” lipidomics is the most commonly adopted ionization method in the field.

One common issue, however, is that it struggles to detect the large number of lipid species that exists (10-100,000). For this reason, chromatography-based lipidomics and “shotgun” lipidomics are often used together to make up for this issue. For more of the latest industry news, research products, and lipidomics developments, visit Avanti’s website today.