Taking Lipidomics to the Next Level

New LipidCreator software highly accelerates the analysis of specific lipid groups and lipid signal molecules, which have a great potential as biomarkers

University of Vienna
Biochemist Robert Ahrends.
Faculty of Chemistry, University of Vienna

Researchers increasingly aim at utilizing the manifold functions of lipids in our bodies, e.g. as blood fats or in blood coagulation, to better understand and predict diseases. An international team led by Robert Ahrends at the Faculty of Chemistry of the University of Vienna now present a groundbreaking tool for efficient lipid analysis in the journal Nature Communications. Their software LipidCreator highly accelerates the analysis of specific lipid groups and lipid signal molecules, and allows both their qualitative and quantitative characterization with mass spectrometry. The scientists applied the new method successfully in an analysis of blood components.

Lipids have a great potential as biomarkers. Life as we know it is wrapped in lipids, fats, and waxes: they form cells and organelles, convey information, protect our bodies from harsh environmental conditions, and serve as energy building blocks. "It is not long ago that we gained an idea about the diversity of lipid functions," says biochemist Robert Ahrends, who started his tenure track professorship in lipidomics—i.e. the analysis of the total lipids of a cell, tissue or organism—at the University of Vienna at the beginning of this year.

The innovative software LipidCreator can take lipidomics to the next level. "The software enables scientists to come up with new targeted lipidomics assays, to make them easily available to other labs, and to retrieve and include comprehensive knowledge and data from other studies, as the software also serves as an online database for lipidomic research," explains Ahrends, who is from the Department of Analytical Chemistry and an author of the study.

Related Article: Emerging Applications of Clinical Mass Spectrometry

Based on the software, scientists now can quantify about 60 lipid classes and their lipid signaling molecules in much bigger studies than previously; they can quickly set up workflows for the analysis of new target molecules, and easily check and validate the results.

Salvaging the treasure of lipids

Lipids are chemically very diverse. They have a complex structure and consist of combinations of different building blocks, such as different sugars, fatty acyl groups, and different types of bonds. Mass spectrometry (MS) has become both faster and more sensitive in recent years. Special further developments of MS today enable the identification of up to 500 lipids; the chemical components and structures of the lipids can be decoded via the masses of the individual lipid fragments. Despite the rapid growth of lipidomics, comprehensive software solutions for targeted mass spectrometric analyses of specific lipid groups have been lacking until now.

Clinical interest

Ahrends and his team already applied their software, proving its high potential for clinical applications: lipids in different forms are important sources of energy, which are transported within the blood. As important factors in signal transmission between cells, they are also involved in the activation of blood platelets (thrombocytes), which in turn are important for blood clotting. Based on LipidCreator, the scientists successfully characterized lipids in blood plasma and analyzed the role of lipids in platelet activation. According to the scientists, data gained from these kinds of surveys might even help to identify relevant factors for blood coagulation and for the development of thrombosis.

- This press release was originally published on the University of Vienna website