Ruey Leng Loo
Ruey Leng Loo completed a PhD in metabolic phenotyping at the Imperial College, London. After that, she was appointed as a Lecturer and was subsequently promoted to Senior Lecturer in 2017. She moved to Murdoch University in 2019 having secured a Western Australia Premier’s Science Mid-Career Fellowship.
Ruey Leng’s research focuses on biomarkers discovery in cardiovascular disease (CVD), and because the major contributing risk factors of CVD are largely affected by modifiable risk factors such as poor diet, she has also expanded her research interest to interrogate foods/food products that we eat and assess how foods affect human health a molecular level.
1. When and why did you start using metabolomics in your investigations?
I first started using metabolomics during my PhD study in 2004 at the Imperial College London. The project applied NMR- based metabolomics to better understand the influence of diets on blood pressure. Prior to my PhD, I had no experience in metabolomics but my background in pharmacy and interest in gaining a better understanding on why people respond differently to diets and medications pique my interest in the field.
2. What have you been working on recently?
My primary research focus remains on applying the metabolome-wide association approach to investigate cardiovascular disease risk using both population and clinical intervention studies. Since moving to the Australian National Phenome Centre (ANPC), Murdoch University in 2019, I have further expanded my research focus to include the analysis of food. I deeply characterise food compositions by leveraging the multiple analytical platforms available at the ANPC to understand the molecular basis of healthy nutrition, and ultimately connect nutritional quality and composition with positive healthcare outcomes through nutritional health claims. My research goal, therefore, aims to enable future preventative medicine strategies at the individual and population levels.
3. You contributed to the development of the metabolome-wide association study (MWAS) approaches to molecular phenotyping, what are the biggest challenges in this field and how did you overcome that?
At the time, it was the first time metabolomics was used to analyse thousands of samples from a cross-sectional population study. The challenge is to identify a suitable data analysis strategy to unpick the subtle changes in the metabolic phenotypes and to understand the biological meaning behind these changes (and of course including the identification of the unknown metabolites). I was lucky to have good mentors so I was able to discuss these challenges with them and address them methodically.
4. You are also involved in the development of metabolic phenotyping methodologies, including the use of alternative sampling methodologies such as dried blood spots. What are the challenges that you face when developing such methodologies and what would you say are the main advantages?
This is the same with developing any other new methodology. We need to consider all aspects, from sampling protocol to extraction, and instrumentation optimisation. In my view, the application of metabolic phenotyping approaches in dried blood spot samples offers the opportunity to perform this in remote, low-resource settings where the collection and storage of serum/plasma are challenging. Together with my collaborators, we have demonstrated that this is possible . Furthermore, this phenotyping technique also offers the option for profiling neonates and/or small children where a large volume of blood collection is often not feasible.
5. Regarding your recent studies on the COVID19 disease, would you mind sharing your valuable findings with the community?
Together with colleagues at the ANPC, we are working on multiple cohorts of COVID-19 samples. So far, we have shown plasma cytokines are useful indicators of a patient’s response to cellular immune response to SARS-CoV-2 infection. However, monitoring these immune responses interacting with the plasma lipoproteins and small molecule metabolites has highlighted the incomplete systemic recovery despite symptoms related to the infection has fully subsided . Moreover, we have also shown the lipoprotein bound phospholipids, which we called SPC, are reduced during SARS-CoV-2 infection and that the SPC has been linked to cardiovascular disease risk .
6. Do you have any advice for early career researchers who are interested in applying MWAS approaches in their research?
There are many aspects to consider here but my suggestion would be to understand the analytical techniques that you want to use, consider the pros and cons of using them, and clearly define the study aims in your chosen study area. Once you have a clear idea of what you want to do, speak to other researchers or your mentors as they can help you to shape your project design and prevent you from repeating the same mistake!
1. Loo, R.L., Lu, Q., Carter, E.M. et al. A feasibility study of metabolic phenotyping of dried blood spot specimens in rural Chinese women exposed to household air pollution. J Expo Sci Environ Epidemiol 31, 328–344 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41370-020-0252-0
2. Lodge, Samantha, et al. Low volume in vitro diagnostic proton NMR spectroscopy of human blood plasma for lipoprotein and metabolite analysis: application to SARS-CoV-2 biomarkers. Journal of proteome research 20.2 (2021): 1415-1423. https://doi.org/10.1021/acs.jproteome.0c00815
3. Masuda, Reika, et al. Exploration of Human Serum Lipoprotein Supramolecular Phospholipids Using Statistical Heterospectroscopy in n-Dimensions (SHY-n): Identification of Potential Cardiovascular Risk Biomarkers Related to SARS-CoV-2 Infection. Analytical Chemistry 94.10 (2022): 4426-4436. https://doi.org/10.1021/acs.analchem.1c05389