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VA Tech Takes Collaborative Approach to Mass Spec

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Collaborative mass spectrometry is coming soon to Virginia Tech. With funds from Virginia’s Commonwealth Research Initiative, Virginia Tech will open its Mass Spectrometry Research Incubator. Once fully running, this facility will be a source of collaboration and information for researchers who want to use mass spectrometry to bolster their research, but aren’t quite sure how to go about it.

Spearheaded by Richard Helm, a professor of biochemistry, this facility will encourage researchers to discuss their mass spectrometry needs before beginning their research. In the past, colleagues would ask Helm and his lab for help when they already had a spot on a gel. Now, researchers will have assistance earlier. “[It’s] a facility where people come to discuss what they want and have help setting up their research,” Helm says.

The $26 million in funding from the Commonwealth Research Initiative, a program passed by the General Assembly last year to create and build research programs in Virginia, bought the infrastructure necessary for this facility. This center will house two mass spectrometry systems, a MALDI-TOF and a quadrupole-quadrupole-ion trap hybrid mass spectrometer. Currently the facility is located in a biotechnology center, but it’s slated to move to its permanent home by 2008.

The first goal of the new center, Helm says, is to provide campus researchers with protein structural information. Then they will introduce quantitative and post-translational modification studies. In the meantime, he adds, the facility will work on metabolic profiling.

Such early collaboration is not unique to Virginia Tech. A handful of other universities and institutes use similar approaches to mass spectrometry. When the Scripps Research Institute in Florida opened two years ago, Jennifer Busby, who runs the core mass spectrometry laboratory, planned her facility so researchers would discuss their “pie in the sky” research hopes with her. “It’s a way to get in on the ground floor,” Busby says. Biological samples, she explains, are not always mass spectrometry-friendly. The earlier the collaboration starts, the better shape the samples will be in by the time they are analyzed. “We find [this approach] very useful,” she adds.

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