Congratulations! If you have decided to read this piece, you are curious about what proteomics is, and maybe even why it should matter to you. In fact, you are in good company as evidenced by a video-taped survey, where randomly selected individuals suggest definitions that amusingly demonstrate that they really have no idea what “proteomics” means.
Although the responses to the question are often funny, they are also a bit sad: Proteomics is on the edge of changing the lives of so many, yet is still so little understood. So, until Hollywood decides to do a proteomics movie with dinosaurs or Minions, the task falls onto the shoulders of those who are working to bring proteomics to all people. I’ll try to make a small contribution here.
What is proteomics?
Proteomics is not related to economics or a type of comics. It is the study of the proteome.
What is the proteome?
The proteome sounds like a nifty name for a stadium or mystical object, but there is nothing sporty or mystical to it. The proteome is simply a term that refers to all the proteins present in your body (or a specific part of your body) at any given moment in time. Similar to how the word “genome” refers to all your DNA and genes.
What is a protein?
Yes, “protein” can elicit images of healthy shakes or slabs of meat (or tofurkey), but protein-as-food is not the complete picture. Protein molecules are made from the instructions (genes) encoded in our DNA. We have an estimated 20,000 genes, which means that we have about 20,000 different proteins. Proteins, which can take on any shape imaginable including a barrel, are certainly the building blocks of life (including meat and non-meat substitutes). But in addition to building our bodies, they also carry out the day-to-day functions of and communications between different parts of the body. Just like cars, proteins can be modified with different features after they are built, such as being adorned with sugars, fats, etc. These modifications not only increase the diversity of our proteins, but may also modify their roles in our bodies. Proteins even respond to changes in environmental effects (e.g., diet, fitness, climate, infection, etc.) and help the body adjust accordingly.
How can proteomics benefit me?
As proteins carry out our day-to-day functions, their levels may fluctuate, which can be indicative of what the body is currently doing or how it is responding to something such as food or stress or medication. Tapping into this rich source of information could open the doors for improving your life in multiple ways, the most important of which may be to help you keep yourself healthy for as long as possible.
At SomaLogic, we realized the potential of tapping into this rich stream of information to improve lives. From a small sample of urine or blood, we gauge the levels of the proteins using our SOMAmer® reagents, which bind to specific proteins. With millions of measurements and clinical data, we harness the power of bioinformatics and machine learning to extract meaningful insights from the data treasure trove.
Over 200 scientific publications testify to our proteomic technology’s promise. It has been used to better understand the underpinnings of a wide range of diseases, including cancer, arthritis, Duchenne muscular dystrophy, Down syndrome, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, etc. The revelations could lead to new drug treatments or new ways of monitoring the effectiveness of treatments. Also, the technology has improved the understanding of how the body ages, responds to lifestyle changes, and more. We envision that one day, a person would be able to have their proteomes routinely assessed by the SOMAscan® platform and the resulting data translated into actionable insights that enable them to live a healthy life well into old age. That is something I think that everyone should care about.