Abstract Metabolomics provides a readout of the state of metabolism in cells or tissue and their responses to external perturbations. For this reason, the approach has great potential in clinical diagnostics. For more than two decades, we have been using stable isotope tracer approaches to probe cellular metabolism in greater detail. The ability to enrich common compounds with rare isotopes such as carbon ( 13C) and nitrogen ( 15N) is the only practical means by which metabolic pathways can be traced, which entails following the fate of individual atoms from the source molecule to products via metabolic transformation. Changes in regulation of pathways are therefore captured by this approach, which leads to deeper understanding of the fundamental biochemistry of cells. Using lessons learned from pathways tracing in cells and organs, we have been applying this methodology to human cancer patients in a clinical setting. Here we review the methodologies and approaches to stable isotope tracing in cells, animal models and in humans subjects.