My main research focus involves developing cutting-edge analytical methods to measure specific metabolites and nutrients, and using these methods to facilitate the further understanding of our metabolism and of the role of metabolism in disease. The current technical challenge is to comprehensively analyse all metabolites and lipids (aka metabolomics and lipidomics), which demands developments in experimental design, sample preparation, analysis, data processing and bioinformatics. I have been responsible for the development and application of novel analytical pipelines to measure metabolites (fatty acids, lipids, etc.) in very large population studies, some of which are still the largest in the world. We are currently using these results to understand how genetics and diet are associated with disease risk through metabolism. This has resulted, for example, in new understanding of the metabolism of odd chain fatty acids and their relation to diabetes risk. I was the first to adapt lipid-profiling methodology to use dried blood spots to measure lipid metabolism in healthy infants, leading to the development of biomarkers for infant nutrition. We are now working on novel approaches to use lipidomics for specific lipoprotein particles to better understand the origin and destination of specific lipids, which will be more informative than ‘global’ lipidomics. My research is divided into three key areas.
- Infant metabolism Early life nutrition is associated with lifelong changes in disease risk. In collaboration with the group of Prof David Dunger we are studying infant metabolism to understand how early changes in infant metabolism can contribute to growth and subsequent disease risk. This work is supported by two BBSRC funded research projects, “The validation of infant nutritional biomarkers” and “The development of biomarkers of infant fat distribution”. For the last project, we closely collaborate with Dr Bjorn Nielsen at the Technical University of Denmark and Prof Anita Hokken-Koelenga (Erasmus University, Rotterdam).
- Technological developments in metabolomics and lipidomics We aim to establish a technology ‘hub’, working on technological advances in metabolomics and lipidomics measurement and analysis that will contribute to biomedical innovation in diseases where metabolism is perturbed. My lab works collaboratively to identify and validate metabolic markers that can be used in diagnosis and prognosis of disease and treatment, providing the complete pipeline from experimental design, sample preparation, analysis, data processing and bioinformatics.
- Developing, validating, applying and disseminating methods for nutritional biomarker analysis (supported by the MRC Epidemiology Unit) We will facilitate the application of nutritional biomarker analysis in (clinical) research, surveillance and experimental medicine, allowing objective measurement of dietary and nutritional status and identification of new nutritional biomarkers.
The combination of these research areas makes it possible to maintain the critical mass required to develop analytical methods and approaches with a high level of quality control and assurance. This provides the IMS with a centralised knowledge hub for analytical chemistry to drive forward our understanding of the role of metabolism in disease.
Jenkins BJ, Seyssel K, Chiu S, Pan PH, Lin SY, Stanley E, Ament Z, West JA, Summerhill K, Griffin JL, Vetter W, Autio KJ, Hiltunen K, Hazebrouck S, Stepankova R, Chen CJ, Alligier M, Laville M, Moore M, Kraft G, Cherrington A, King S, Krauss RM, de Schryver E, Van Veldhoven PP, Ronis M, Koulman A. Odd Chain Fatty Acids; New Insights of the Relationship Between the Gut Microbiota, Dietary Intake, Biosynthesis and Glucose Intolerance. Sci Rep. 2017;7:44845.
Acharjee A, Prentice P, Acerini C, Smith J, Hughes IA, Ong K, Griffin JL, Dunger D, Koulman A. The translation of lipid profiles to nutritional biomarkers in the study of infant metabolism. Metabolomics 2017;13:25.
Lu L, Koulman A, Petry CJ, Jenkins B, Matthews L, Hughes IA, Acerini CL, Ong KK, Dunger DB. An Unbiased Lipidomics Approach Identifies Early Second Trimester Lipids Predictive of Maternal Glycemic Traits and Gestational Diabetes Mellitus. Diabetes Care. 2016 ;39:2232-2239.
Koulman A, Prentice P, Wong MC, Matthews L, Bond NJ, Eiden M, Griffin JL, Dunger DB. The development and validation of a fast and robust dried blood spot based lipid profiling method to study infant metabolism. Metabolomics. 2014;10:1018-1025.
Forouhi NG, Koulman A, Sharp SJ, Imamura F, Kröger J, Schulze MB, Crowe FL, Huerta JM, Guevara M, Beulens JW, van Woudenbergh GJ, Wang L, Summerhill K, Griffin JL, Feskens EJ, Amiano P, Boeing H, Clavel-Chapelon F, Dartois L, Fagherazzi G, Franks PW, Gonzalez C, Jakobsen MU, Kaaks R, Key TJ, Khaw KT, Kühn T, Mattiello A, Nilsson PM, Overvad K, Pala V, Palli D, Quirós JR, Rolandsson O, Roswall N, Sacerdote C, Sánchez MJ, Slimani N, Spijkerman AM, Tjonneland A, Tormo MJ, Tumino R, van der A DL, van der Schouw YT, Langenberg C, Riboli E, Wareham NJ. Differences in the prospective association between individual plasma phospholipid saturated fatty acids and incident type 2 diabetes: the EPIC-InterAct case-cohort study. Lancet Diabetes Endocrinol. 2014;2:810-8.