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The goals of our core are to encourage and facilitate the use of biomarkers for nutritional epidemiological and intervention studies, to provide access to state-of-the-art techniques and equipment to bench scientists, and to provide cost-effective assays for investigators without lab facilities. The core also provides training for students and postdoctoral fellows. With locations at both the Chapel Hill and Nutrition Research Institute (NRI) campuses, we are able to provide a wide array of instrumentation and support to investigators at both locations.

The Metabolism and Metabolomics Core encourages collaborations that promote the use of untargeted and broad-spectrum metabolomics in basic, clinical, and translational research focused on environmental health and precision nutrition. The measurement of perturbations in metabolism that arise from disease, dysfunction, or exposure (e.g., chemicals, drugs, nutrients, foods, stress) is referred to as metabolomics. The measurement of all exposures and the impact on endogenous metabolism is referred to as the exposome.

Metabolomics involves the analysis of the low molecular weight complement of cells, tissues, or biological fluids, and makes it feasible to profile (metabotyping) the biochemistry of an individual or system. The untargeted metabolomics profile includes signals for endogenous compounds (that map to biochemical pathways), as well as signals of exogenously derived components (e.g., chemicals, drugs, nutrients), enabling biomarker discovery and providing mechanistic insights for medical and nutritional applications, as well as environmental research.

The use of metabolomics in precision medicine often involves the development of biomarkers to detect, stage, and monitor disease, as well as the study of how individuals respond to drug treatment. Similarly, in the field of precision nutrition, individuals have different nutrient requirements, and individuals respond differently to nutrient intake. Individuals also have many types of exposures to drugs, chemicals, and foods that can cause metabolic perturbations. Genetics, polymorphisms, and metabolic individuality can all contribute to the adverse or positive responses of an individual – and the intersection between genomics, metabolomics, and the environment (e.g., foods, nutrients, chemicals, drugs, lifestyle) comprises the focus of the NORC Metabolism and Metabolomics Core.


The Metabolism and Metabolomics Core offers a variety of services. To learn more about a specific service and/or to submit a service request, visit us on iLab.

Untargeted and Broad Spectrum Metabolomics

We have developed a number of platforms to use for the study of endogenous and exogenous compounds that represent the metabolome and the exposome. The NORC Metabolism and Metabolomics Core provides:

Service 1: Expert opinion related to study design, sample selection/collection and storage, proposal review and development, manuscript development and review

Service 2: Untargeted analysis using a variety of analytical methods via Mass Spectrometry

  • Ultra High Performance Liquid Chromatography (UPLC) coupled with Mass Spectrometry
    • The core uses a variety of orbitrap (Orbi), and time of flight (TOF) mass spectrometry systems for the detection of signals following separation by UPLC.
    • These UPLC-MS untargeted methods enable the detection of tens of thousands of signals associated with the metabolome/exposome.
    • Metabolites are assigned through matching retention-time (RT), Mass (MS), and MS/MS to in-house library established under conditions identical to the methods used for analysis of the study samples.
      • Our core has a retention-time, MS, MS/MS library with over 1,000 endogenous compounds, and metabolites derived from foods, environmentally relevant chemicals, and medications and illicit drugs.
      • This library grows as we work with collaborators to obtain standards and identify signals associated with the metabolome/exposome.
    • Signals that do not match to our in-house libraries are annotated through the use of literature and publicly available external libraries.
      • We are using innovative methods for peak picking and big data analytics to annotate signals.

Service 3: Nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy

  • NMR is a highly reproducible metabolomics platform with exceptional longitudinal stability. NMR can detect, with semi-quantitation. Signals are assigned to metabolites through library matching, and using the structural information provided by the NMR chemical shift and coupling patterns.

Service 4: Targeted Broad Spectrum Metabolite Analysis via NMR and Mass Spectrometry

  • Quantitative targeted analysis of 188 endogenous metabolites (acylcarnitines, amino acids, biogenic amines, hexoses, phosphatidylcholines and sphingolipids) is conducted using the Biocrates Absolute IDQ p180 Kit and LC-MS/MS.
  • NMR is used to quantitate targeted analytes – such as those known to derive from microbial metabolism.
  • Specialized set-up for quantitative targeted analysis

Service 5: Cytokine Arrays

  • High-throughput, relative quantitation analysis using the RayBiotech array to acquire data for 42 or 80 cytokines in human samples, 62 cytokines in mouse samples, and 34 cytokines in rat samples.

Service 6: Atomic Absorption

  • The Atomic Absorption Spectroscopy Lab provides analysis that is used to determine the levels of arsenate, methylated and other organic forms of arsenic in solutions and/or matrices.

Service 7: Statistics and Multivariate Data Analysis

  • Statistics and Multivariate Data Analysis is used to identify patterns and data trends that show the association of signals with phenotypic responses under investigation. These methods include supervised and unsupervised multivariate analyses, descriptive statistics, hypothesis testing and modeling (e.g., linear and logistic regression, structural equation modeling, random forest models).

Service 8: Pathway Analysis

  • Pathway Analsyisis used to map identified signals to biochemical pathways via specialized software, and expert biochemist interpretation.

Targeted Analysis of the Choline Metabolic Pathway

Targeted services are available for quantitative LC-MS assays related to 1-carbon metabolism:

  • Choline Metabolites (choline, betaine, phosphatidylcholine, phosphocholine, glycerophosphocholine)
  • Dimethyl-glycine
  • TMA and TMAO


Susan Sumner, PhD

Professor, Nutrition

500 Laureate Way, Suite 4201
Kannapolis, NC 28081

(704) 250-5066

Core Director, Metabolism and Metabolomics Core

Mirek Styblo, PhD

Professor, Nutrition

2302 Michael Hooker Research Center
CB# 7461
Chapel Hill, NC 27599

(919) 966-5721

Director, Atomic Absorption Spectrometry Lab (Chapel Hill)

Susan McRitchie, MA, MS

Program Manager, Sumner Lab

500 Laureate Way
Kannapolis, NC 28081

(704) 250-5067

Core Manager, Metabolism and Metabolomics Core