Each year, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) honors scientists who have demonstrated a track record of leadership, creativity, and innovation in their fields of study with the distinction of Laboratory Fellow. Biomedical Scientist Tom Metz, a group leader and principal investigator in the Integrative Omics group within the Biological Sciences Division of PNNL, is the latest to receive this recognition.
Want to get to know PNNL’s latest Laboratory Fellow? Here’s a summary of his work and personal interests.
Metz joined PNNL in 2003 for his postdoctoral work using mass spectrometry. He became a PNNL staff scientist in 2005 and continued his research focus on the development and application of high-throughput metabolomics and lipidomics methods to various biological questions. Over 20 years of scientific study, he helped establish PNNL’s metabolomics and lipidomics experimental platforms and analytical tools. He is nationally and internationally recognized by the scientific community for his expertise in metabolomics technologies. His interest in developing the next generation of scientists in mass spectrometry and application shows through mentorship and collaboration. He’s also the director of the Pacific Northwest Advanced Compound Identification Core in the National Institutes of Health Common Fund Metabolomics program, lead of the PNNL m/q Initiative, and president of the Metabolomics Association of North America.
WHERE DID YOU GROW UP AND WAS THERE ONE EXPERIENCE THAT SPARKED YOUR INTEREST IN SCIENCE?
“I grew up in the George’s Creek area of Western Maryland, which is coal mining country and referred to as ‘The Crick’ by locals. I can’t recall a single experience that sparked my interest in science. Looking back, I was always interested in learning about technology and science. When I was in grade school, my mom signed me up for summer courses on topics such as volcanoes or computer programming, and the rest is history.”
WHAT SHOULD THE PUBLIC KNOW ABOUT YOUR RESEARCH AND HOW IT IMPACTS THEIR LIVES?
“My research has primarily focused on understanding molecular processes that lead to the development of disease or that contribute to downstream effects of disease. When someone has a disease, it is an off-normal situation, and very often there are changes occurring at the molecular level that are either contributing to the manifestation of the disease or are biomarkers of the disease process. I use technology called mass spectrometry to measure molecules such as proteins, metabolites, and lipids in human clinical samples or cell and animal models, and then look for those that are changing due to disease. These changes can then help us understand why the disease is occurring and identify targets for future therapeutic intervention.”
WHAT DOES A DAY IN THE LIFE LOOK LIKE FOR YOU?
“It really varies. I may have several meetings with teams working on projects that I direct to discuss progress towards goals or barriers that might be impeding results. Or I may be reviewing manuscripts that project team members have written. Or I may be writing grant proposals or progress reports for sponsors. Sometimes I participate in internal workshops or brainstorming meetings to help formulate new concepts or contribute to development of proposals. Other days, I may be traveling to scientific conferences or program meetings to report on project results or learn about the latest technical and scientific developments in the community. Very often it is a mix of all the above.”
WHAT WOULD YOU CONSIDER YOUR SINGLE GREATEST PROFESSIONAL ACCOMPLISHMENT OR SCIENTIFIC BREAKTHROUGH?
“Establishing metabolomics and lipidomics capabilities at PNNL through leveraging the fantastic resources that were originally developed for proteomics research.”
Metz holds a doctorate from the University of South Carolina and two bachelor’s degrees—one from San Jose State University and another from Frostburg State University. He’s the author or coauthor of more than 180 peer-reviewed publications. His papers have appeared in leading journals including Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, New England Journal of Medicine, Cell Metabolism, and the Nature series.