Liquid chromatography was the star of the show for Waters and Agilent Technologies at this year’s Pittcon: Both companies released, before crowded show audiences, new mass spec-interfaced LC technologies that they claimed would revolutionize the marketplace — and eventually nearly replace the comparable products they currently sell.
With a well-orchestrated flourish that included an unveiling ceremony, Waters finally introduced its new HPLC product that it had been hinting at for the last several months (see PM 11-21-03). The Acquity Ultra Performance Liquid Chromatography system. Waters executives repeatedly declared that the product was “the biggest breakthrough in separations technology in 25 years,” during their press conference, and predicted that it would completely “redesign the analytical marketplace.” According to Brian Smith, senior director of pharmaceutical and life sciences market development, the UPLC system — which features patented hybrid silicon/polymer 1.7µm particles packed into a 10 cm column and subjected to 15,000 psi of pressure — achieves speeds 10 times those of HPLC runs, with large improvements in peak height, resolution, and sensitivity when fed into a mass spectrometer. He showed the example of a test mix of metabolites fed through the UPLC and analyzed by the company’s Q-TOF. The result was a three-fold increase in ion intensity and the differentiation of four different peaks from what was on an HPLC run only a single peak.
“I’m sure that competitors will be scrambling to show [even] one or two of these capabilities,” Smith said.
Waters’ grandiose introduction of the system has yet to pan out in product acceptance, but the initial response appeared positive: Crowds gathered around the Waters booth throughout the show, and lectures focusing on the system were packed.
Waters is offering the UPLC immediately for a variety of appli-cations, including metabolite and peptide analysis, with interfaces to all Waters’ mass specs except for its single quad. It is not, however, compatible with other vendors’ mass specs — and Waters plans to keep it that way, at least for awhile. “At this point we’re not prepared to go in that direction,” John Morawski, director of worldwide pharmaceutical marketing, told ProteoMonitor.
Although you can get a UPLC with your Q-TOF now, applying the new device to many proteomics applications is not yet possible. Waters is currently trying to fill in that missing link, Tim Riley, vice president of proteomics business development told ProteoMonitor. At this point, UPLC cannot handle volumes below the 100 µL scale — much too large for many proteomics applications, in which scientists often work with samples less than 1 µL. “We are now investigating whether we can produce the low flow rates required for typical proteomics applications,” Riley said. “We don’t know yet [if we can] — stay tuned,” he said. He predicted that feasibility studies would be completed before the end of this year, but Morawski hinted that we might see something sooner.
Should applications to small-volume proteomics experiments be made possible, however, Riley said that many significant improvements to biomarker discovery, in particular, would be possible — including the separation of co-eluting peptides into different peaks, higher sensitiv-ity, and much shorter analysis time.
This is just one of several applications that Waters is working on for UPLC, according to Morawski. “There are three or four applications on the short list,” he said.
Morawski said that for certain applications, he expected a “direct and immediate replacement” of HPLC with UPLC. “We want to expand the market rather than invade it, but we expect there will be instances where this will cannibalize our HPLC,” Morawski said. “And we’re OK with that.”
UPLC will ship by June, and will cost about 25 percent more than Waters’ Alliance HPLC system.
More on the Plate for the Small Biologist
This week Agilent released its ChipLC, a microfluidics-based nano-LC system on a chip. Life sciences senior vice president Chris van Ingen told ProteoMonitor that the chip had such superior ease of use and robustness that it eventually would make clunky traditional nano-LC systems obsolete for all but the most committed “tinkerers.”
The chip uses microfluidics and laser-etched polymer grooves to put the whole LC workflow, including sample preparation and reactions, on the chip, eliminating about 40 percent of the fittings and connections used in Agilent’s 1100 LC series, said LC-MS marketing manager John Michnowicz. Because there are fewer parts to worry about, the chip is more efficient and user-friendly than the old LC system. There also seem to be improvements in sensitivity, although this observation is still being verified at beta test sites, Michnowicz said. The main purpose: to make complex LC systems accessible to less technically savvy biologists. “We want to get away from the expert user and to the biologists,” Michnowicz said. To that end, van Ingen said he expects that most scientists who are “focused on a problem” rather than on building technology will eventually switch to the chip system.
Like Waters’ UPLC, ChipLC is fitted with interfaces to Agilent’s mass specs only. Unlike the UPLC, however, the very first versions of ChipLC — which will not be formally introduced until ASMS in May and will ship at the end of the year at a price comparable to the 1100 LC — will be headed straight for the proteomics market, which is the “first target” for the product, according to Agilent.
The chip that will be released at the end of the year will be “just the beginning of longer term development to combine more steps” in the proteomics workflow onto the chip surface, according to Michnowicz.
Future applications that Agilent hopes to add to the chip include digestion of the protein into peptides, MDLC, and affinity chrom-atography.