Advances in analytical methodologies, principally nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy (NMR) and mass spectrometry (MS), during the last decade have made large-scale analysis of the human metabolome a reality. This is leading to the reawakening of the importance of metabolism in human diseases, particularly cancer. The metabolome is the functional readout of the genome, functional genome, and proteome; it is also an integral partner in molecular regulations for homeostasis. The interrogation of the metabolome, or metabolomics, is now being applied to numerous diseases, largely by metabolite profiling for biomarker discovery, but also in pharmacology and therapeutics. Recent advances in stable isotope tracer-based metabolomic approaches enable unambiguous tracking of individual atoms through compartmentalized metabolic networks directly in human subjects, which promises to decipher the complexity of the human metabolome at an unprecedented pace. This knowledge will revolutionize our understanding of complex human diseases, clinical diagnostics, as well as individualized therapeutics and drug response.
In this review, we focus on the use of stable isotope tracers with metabolomics technologies for understanding metabolic network dynamics in both model systems and in clinical applications. Atom-resolved isotope tracing via the two major analytical platforms, NMR and MS, has the power to determine novel metabolic reprogramming in diseases, discover new drug targets, and facilitates ADME studies. We also illustrate new metabolic tracer-based imaging technologies, which enable direct visualization of metabolic processes in vivo. We further outline current practices and future requirements for biochemoinformatics development, which is an integral part of translating stable isotope-resolved metabolomics into clinical reality.