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Proteomics Puts its Stamp on Pittcon; Analytical Chemists Say, Huh?

NEW ORLEANS, March 22 - In spite of the fact that most of the analytical chemists who hiked up and down the aisles of Pittcon 2002 here this week would be hard pressed to tell you what a proteome is, it is fair to say that proteomics made its mark on the massive scientific instrumentation convention that closes here on Friday.

Organizers of Pittcon--the 53-year-old annual meeting of analytical chemists and spectroscopists from the food, materials sciences, petrochemicals, and pharmaceuticals industries--went out of their way this year to attract biotech and life sciences participants.


Bill Sharpe, Pittcon technical program coordinator, said his team made an "enormous effort to make life sciences a focus ... because of the needs of the life sciences area now and into the future." That effort included circulating a six-page pre-conference brochure aimed at luring biopharmaceutical attendees, as well as scheduling a proteomics poster session, two proteomics short courses, and eight proteomic- and genomic-related technical sessions.  

With session titles like "Genomics Jambalaya: A Recipe for Gene Discovery," "Microfluidic Chips and Mass Spectroscopy Meet the Proteomics Challenge;" and "Cancer Diagnostics Based on Mass Spectrometry, Protein Chips, and Microarrays for Detection of Biomarkers," what life-science-type wouldn't rush the doors?


Organizers also reeled in Lee Hood to give a primer on genomics technologies and the history of his own career, summarized during a lunchtime lecture called "A Personal View of the Development of Molecular Instrumentation and How it Changes Biology."


Standard analytical chemistry buzzwords like spectroscopy, food chemistry, and chemometrics were plastered on the cover of the conference program. But among them were these novel buzz words: proteomics, DNA, biotechnology, and life sciences.


Attendees showed a fair level of interest in the trendy new topics, but conference organizers really seemed to be taking their cue from instrument vendors who have identified proteomics research as a lucrative new market.


To be sure, only a fraction of the show's 1,000-plus exhibitors sell strictly to the life sciences market, and of those only a handful focused their exhibit on proteomics. But, as Sharpe noted while pointing to an ad for Thermo Finnigan's ProteomeX integrated 2D/LC workstation on the back cover of the conference's daily tabloid-sized magazine, proteomics' presence was pervasive at Pittcon.


Applied Biosystems, for instance, featured only instruments for proteomics analysis at its booth, including its new 4700 Proteomics Analyzer MALDI-TOF/TOF and ICAT technologies. Amersham Biosciences representatives also acknowledged that protein analysis tools were their booth's most prominent feature. The company displayed two of its Ettan MALDI-TOF mass spec instruments.


Martin Haase, president and CEO of Bruker AXS, which exhibited its Proteum 300 and Proteum-R X-ray crystallography instruments alongside instruments for materials science, said his company is seeing its protein-structure-analysis applications business grow so fast that it will outpace the materials business in a few years.


Meantime, sister company Bruker Daltonics showed its MALDI-TOF and -TOF/TOF instruments and unveiled six new proteomics products at the meeting.


Marc Casper, president of Thermo Electron's life and laboratory sciences sector, which featured five new mass spec products at the show, observed that many scientific instrumentation vendors are jumping on the life-sciences bandwagon. "The growth rate in life sciences is faster than for industrial [applications], so companies put more focus on that area," he said.


"Yes, proteomics is a bigger part [of Pittcon] this year and it will be an even larger part next year," Casper predicted.


Maybe so. But Pittcon might have to work even harder to reel in the sort of attendees who would buy proteomics products: Asked what they thought of the attention being paid to proteomics here, a small, statistically insignificant sample of the 22,000 attendees polled at random by GenomeWeb at convention-center lunch tables and on hotel shuttle buses, responded: "What's proteomics?"

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