An Interview with Metabolon’s Annie Evans, Ph.D.
Annie Evans, Ph.D. is the Associate Director of R&D at Metabolon, Inc. based in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina. Dr. Evans was a principal contributor to the development of the Lipidyzer™ Platform within the SCIEX open innovation project known as Castor. In this interview, she speaks to us about metabolomics, the Lipidyzer project and why SelexION® Technology has changed her perspective on chromatography. Dr. Evans also explains why you should love metabolomics.
What is metabolomics?
Metabolomics is the study of small molecules called metabolites that are critical to the biology in every living thing on the planet. Almost every factor impacting health, from genetics and the microbiome to disease and lifestyle, exerts its influence by altering metabolite levels. By producing the most accurate, comprehensive picture of the metabolome, Metabolon helps answer some of biology’s most challenging questions.
How do you view the technology that is allowing you to do all those inspirational things?
I could not do it without an advanced metabolomics technology, which we call Precision Metabolomics™. When I got into science, I knew I wanted to help people. Metabolomics, mass spectrometry and chromatography are the essential tools we use at Metabolon to help drive our understanding of health. The sensitivity and specificity of our technology, and ability to do massive volumes or single cell analysis, make it so critical to this work.
Why should the average person be interested in the results of metabolomics research?
I think about all the studies that Metabolon does. They can look at everyday things like, “When I eat yogurt, does it help my gut flora?” Or, “does using one type of toothpaste over another actually make my teeth healthier?” The technology can also answer big questions like, “Do I have prediabetes? Are my diet and exercise helping keep me healthy?” Metabolomics contributes to a person's everyday quality of life and why we love metabolomics and you should, too.
How did you get into metabolomics?
I would love to say it was intentional, but I fell into it. When I got out of graduate school, I found Metabolon, which was looking for scientists to help them develop their global metabolomics technology. I knew how to use a mass spectrometer. I knew biology. That was it.
The Lipidyzer quantitates lipids. What is the connection between lipids and metabolomics?
In my mind, metabolomics and lipidomics are different biological pathways. They are distinct biological entities, but both are influential and important in health. It’s equally important to assess metabolites and lipids when trying to understand what’s going on in a biological system. Just like the molecules traditionally associated with metabolomics, lipids play an important role in day-to-day functioning but are also integral to the structural health of a system. What I mean by structural health is that lipids make up the barriers of every cell in our bodies. If you have a break down in lipid health, cells lose the ability to function properly. When you understand what is happening to both lipids and metabolites, you’ll have a more comprehensive picture of the current state of health, which is what we seek to provide at Metabolon.
Did being on the Lipidyzer team change the way you perceive mass spec technology?
It absolutely did. I remember the moment when we said we did not have to use chromatography, and I had been a chromatography person! I have really had to change my perspective. The SelexION Technology empowers the mass spectrometer to do something that would normally be very painful. It has opened my mind that on-line separation like gas phase fractionation isn’t as unwieldy as I once thought.
Metabolon uses the Lipidyzer Platform every day as part of our comprehensive analysis of biological samples, and we’re still excited about the results we are getting. Analyzing complex lipids, alongside our Precision Metabolomics platform, gives us a richer data set to better understand and interpret the biology at play for the scientists we work with.