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ASMS 2015 Sees Increased Focus on Integrated Mass Spec Workflows as Opposed to Standalone Releases


NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – The American Society for Mass Spectrometry annual meeting is typically marked by a flurry of new instrument releases as vendors make use of the conference to introduce their latest wares.

The 2015 edition, held this week in St. Louis, was relatively light in terms of new mass spec launches, however, as many manufacturers focused instead on processes upfront of mass spec analysis as well as new workflows and solutions based on existing instrumentation.

"It's not good enough now to just deliver a mass spectrometer," Aaron Hudson, senior director of the academic and clinical research business at Sciex, told GenomeWeb by way of explaining the company's lack of new instrument launches at this year's meeting. "To make [mass spec] more widely adopted, you have to build into it solutions so that people can use it almost without even knowing that they are using it."

"Many of our customers don't care if it's a mass spec or a toaster," he added. "They just want it to do a job."

Indicative of this approach is Sciex's lead ASMS release, its Lipidyzer Platform, a mass spec-based system developed in collaboration with Metabolon that the company said will allow researchers to reproducibly quantify roughly 1,300 lipids from 10 different lipid classes including analytes of interest to researchers of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and neurodegenerative disorders.

Based on Sciex's 5500 QTRAP, the system uses multiple-reaction monitoring assays for routine quantification of the covered lipids, Hudson said, adding that the system aimed to open up to non-experts a field that has typically required high levels of expertise.

"Lipidomics is very complex," he said, noting that the field has typically required both a high level of chromatography and mass spec experience as well as in-depth knowledge of lipid behavior.

The Lipidyzer "starts to democratize the field of lipidomics," Hudson said. "It is a workflow driven interface, so you don't actually see the mass spec interface. There's kind of a wrapper over the top of the mass spec for the non-specialist researcher."

Key to the system, Hudson said, is use of Sciex's Selexion ion mobility technology to separate lipid species — isobaric species, in particular — upfront of mass spec analysis.

Bruker likewise took a workflow-based approach to its main ASMS launch, the MALDI Tissuetyper, a mass spec system aimed specifically at MALDI imaging for anatomic pathology research.

As opposed to Sciex's Lipidyzer, however, the Bruker system is based on new mass spec technology – the company's Rapiflex MALDI-TOF mass spec, which it launched this week.

According to Shannon Cornett, Bruker's US applications development manager, the key advance of the Rapiflex is speed. The instrument features a 10-kHz laser, which is five times faster than the 2 kHz that Bruker MALDIs previously topped out at, and twice as fast as MALDIs offered by SimulTOF Systems, the previous leader in MALDI laser speed. 

This speed is essential to the Tissuetyper system in that it brings MALDI imaging turnaround times into the range of traditional pathology, Cornett told GenomeWeb.

"The hurdle to gaining general clinical interest [in MALDI imaging] has been the inability of traditional MALDI imaging to provide real-time answers," he said. "Normally, clinicians remove a biopsy, send it off to pathology for review, get the results back in 30 minutes to an hour and then make their clinical decision based on that review. The Tissuetyper can give results in a similar time frame. So that's the reason we think it will gain more acceptance and more use in clinical research."

He cited determination of tumor tissue margins as one area where the system could prove particularly useful given that studies have suggested that proteomic analysis may provide additional information to standard morphological assessments in this regard.

Cornett noted that while the Rapiflex instrument is, in theory, suitable for any application a researcher might use MALDI for, it was developed with MALDI tissue imaging specifically in mind.

"Everything operationally about it was designed with clinical research tissue imaging in mind," he said. He noted that while the version released this week comes with only a single TOF analyzer, Bruker plans to release a tandem TOF-TOF instrument in the future.

In other Bruker news, at the 2015 American Society for Microbiology meeting this week inNew Orleans, the company launched a new mycobacteria library for its MALDI Biotyper mass spec system. The new Mycobacteria Library 3.0 contains 149 different mycobacteria species and, the company noted, in a recent study of 1,045 mycobacteria samples, enabled the MALDI Biotyper to identify 94 percent of them with high confidence and 4.5 percent with lower confidence.

In terms of more straightforward — as opposed to workflow-based — instrument releases, Thermo Fisher Scientific had one of the more significant launches with its new Orbitrap Fusion Lumos Tribrid mass spec, an upgraded version of the Orbitrap Fusion instrument the company released at ASMS two years ago.

As with the original instrument, the Fusion Lumos includes a quadrupole, ion trap, and Orbitrap. Its upgrades include better inlet optics, an electrodynamic ion funnel, and an improved quadrupole, all of which serve to increase the intake and flow of ions through the machine, offering an increase in sensitivity of between three and five-fold compared to the original Fusion system, Ken Miller, Thermo Fisher vice president of marketing, life science mass spectrometry, told GenomeWeb.

The instrument also includes an improved electron transfer dissociation capability, Miller said, noting that it allows for ETD on much larger populations of ions, improving fragment coverage.

Additionally, improvements to the instrument's back-end vacuum allows it to transmit intact proteins with much higher efficiency, enabling improved top-down analysis, he said.

Thermo Fisher also launched this week a version of its Q Exactive instrument coupled to its Trace 1300 gas chromatography device. While the instrument is primarily aimed at industrial and applied markets, it will also have applications for metabolomics and lipidomics, Miller said, noting that the complexity of metabolomics means separation techniques beyond conventional LC are often useful.

"The proteome is extremely complex but reasonably well behaved because what we are doing is analyzing peptides, most of which have relatively uniform behavior in terms of their chromatography and mass spectrometry," he said. "When you analyze metabolites, it's a whole different ballgame. There you have analytes that are extremely hydrophobic and also analytes that are extremely hydrophylic; some that are extremely polar, [and] others that are extremely non-polar."

This means that "you really need to optimize your chromatography and your analytical techniques for each of those compound classes," he added. "GC-MS is particularly useful for non-polar analytes — lipids and other things that are typically quite complicated to analyze by LC-MS."

This week's conference also saw Shimadzu release its new LC-MS-8060 triple quadrupole, which the company said offers data acquisition scan speeds of 30,000 u/sec and polarity switching times of 5 milliseconds.

Agilent also released a new triple quad, its 6470 triple quadrupole, which, the company said, offers attogram-level sensitivity and accurate quantitation over six orders of dynamic range.

Waters, meanwhile, launched its Vion IMS QTOF mass spec, an ion mobility-enabled benchtop instrument aimed at routine analyses. The company also highlighted its REIMS technology, which it obtained through its $23 million acquisition of MediMass in July 2014.

REIMS uses direct, rapid heating of samples to create vapor that can then be analyzed via mass spec. Like MALDI, the method can be applied to intact tissue samples and eliminates the need for upfront chromatography. Its potential clinical applications include lipid-based microbial identification and tumor margin analysis.