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At ASMS, Mass-Spec Vendors Debut Tools to Meet Growing Demand for Better Performance

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DENVER — As mass-spectrometry vendors search for the next breakthrough in instrument technology, a number of them unveiled a host of new tools this week they claim offer greater mass accuracy and resolution, depth of coverage, and sensitivity.
 
At the annual conference of the American Society for Mass Spectrometry held here this week, all the major mass-spec vendors, with the exception of Applied Biosystems, used the meeting as a launching pad for new instrument platforms.
 
And ABI, while not launching any new hardware, introduced new software and spoke to reporters about the state of their mass-spec business [See accompanying story, this issue].
 
It’s unclear whether any of the platforms introduced this week will have the same technological implications as technologies launched in past ASMS conferences — such as the Orbitrap technology unveiled in 2005 by Thermo Electron, now Thermo Fisher Scientific; or its LTQ XL, the first linear ion trap mass spec with electron transfer dissociation capability introduced at ASMS in 2006; or the Synapt HDMS introduced by Waters also in 2006.
 
But as researchers demand more from their mass specs in their quest to detect, identify, and quantify proteins, vendors are pushing the technology envelope to try to meet their needs. Below are the major instrument launches from the conference.
 
‘The Future’ of Waters’ Separation Business
 
Waters introduced its Xevo TQ tandem quadrupole mass spec for food-safety, environmental, chemical, and pharmaceutical research, but the big news from the company for proteomics was the preview of the Trizaic UPLC that combines the company’s new NanoTile technology with its nanoAcquity UPLC system.
 
The NanoTile technology is an LC capillary-scale column that uses ceramic technology to replace fused silica capillary columns.
 
According to Mark McDowall, strategic development manager for mass spectrometry, the Trizaic uses proprietary microfluidic separation technology with sub-2 micron chemicals to perform the nanoscale chromatographic separations, and has a built-in data-communications interface to communicate separately with the nanoAcquity UPLC system and the mass spectrometer.
 
The nanoTile device comprises an analytical column, trap column, heating element, and electrospray emitter. The Trizaic UPLC represents the first application of the technology, and McDowall said the system provides increased usability for high-peak capacity separations.
 
“We see this as the future of our separations strategy,” he said.
 
While the technology is initially being offered in nano capacity, company officials say it is scaleable beyond that and may be combined with the Acquity platform. The Trizaic begins shipping in early 2009.
 
Agilent Continues MS Push
 
A new quadrupole time-of-flight that Agilent Technologies said has “unmatched sensitivity” and a new triple quadrupole LC-MS system that breaks the femtogram-level detection barrier continued the company’s relatively new but aggressive push into the mass-spec space.
 
The 6530 Q-TOF LC-Ms incorporates Agilent’s True High Definition TOF technology, which increases sensitivity and mass accuracy across a range of concentrations and mass-to-charge ratios. It also incorporates a new jet stream thermal gradient-focusing technology that improves system sensitivity to high fentogram levels of detection.
 

“We see this as the future of our separations strategy.”

According to the company, the system offers better than 1 ppm MS mass accuracy, approaching that of a Fourier transform mass spec. It also has a ten-fold improvement in in-spectrum dynamic range without loss of sensitivity, and a mass resolution of 20,000 that isn’t dependent on spectral acquisition rate.
 
Priced at $505,000, the platform will begin shipping in September, according to Ken Miller, Agilent’s senior global marketing director for Life Sciences LC-MS unit.
 
Also at ASMS, Agilent launched the 6460 triple-quadrupole LC-MS/MS, which the company said lowers detection levels six-fold compared to previous instruments, breaking the fentogram-level.
 
“I challenge anyone to demonstrate any greater level of sensitivity,” Gus Salem, Agilent’s vice president and general manager for LC-MS said. “Breaking the fentogram barrier is no trivial” matter.
 
In addition to work on protein biomarkers, the 6460’s applications include food safety, environmental testing, and drug and metabolite analysis. It is meant to compete directly with ABI’s API 5000, which Miller called the “gorilla in this market.”
 
Like the 6530, the 6460 uses the Jet Stream thermal gradient-focusing technology, which the company said enhances nebulization and desolvation while reducing ion dispersion flow rates, resulting in stronger signals with lower RSDs at the limit of detection.
 
The platform lists for $350,000 and will begin shipping in September.
 
Bruker Targets Orbitrap
 
According to Ian Sanders, executive vice president at Bruker, the biggest obstacle in LC-MS has been the inability to couple high resolution and accuracy in mass spectrometry with the highest possible resolving chromatography.
 
Bruker’s solution is the maXis Ultra-High Resolution tandem time-of-flight instrument. The specs on the instrument include resolution of 40,000 to 60,000 FWHM “over a broad mass range,” MS and MS/MS mass accuracy between 600 and 800 ppb, and speeds of up to 20 full spectra per second.
 
The upshot, Sander said, is that the maXis offers “speed and performance … not capable with any other technology.” For proteomics, the instrument’s main application is label-free quantitation work, he added.
 
The instrument, Bruker officials said, was designed specifically in mind for the newest technology in liquid chromatography, embodied by Waters’ Acquity UPLC, which calls for mass spec analysis at high speeds. The maXis is also aimed at Thermo Fisher’s Oribitrap, Sanders said.
 
Listed at $575,000, the instrument will begin shipping in September, Frank Laukien, president and CEO of Bruker said.
 
Thermo Fisher’s Sensitive Vantage
 
Thermo Fisher Scientific unveiled its TSQ Vantage LC-MS/MS system this week and said it up to 10 times more sensitive than any other similar instrument on the market, but without a corresponding increase in noise.
 
According to Lester Taylor, marketing director at Thermo Fisher, the improvements are due to an ion sweep cap that maintains the instrument’s robustness and sensitivity over time, and a new S-lens optics system that improves ion transfer from the entrance to the source to the optics of the mass spec. The new optics enables virtually every ion to be captured and transferred to the quadrupole mass analyzer.
 
For proteomics, the instrument offers several advantages, including the ability to obtain better data from complex peptide mixtures, an improvement of more than four orders of magnitude in linear dynamic range, and “exceptional” low flow-rate performance, Taylor said.
 
Thermo Fisher also unveiled its Proteome Discoverer software that it said provides the most comprehensive view of quantitative and qualitative proteomic data currently available.
 
According to Taylor, the software allows researchers to combine and compare data from virtually every major search engine, such as Sequest and Mascot, public databases, and dissociation methods such as collision-induced dissociation and ETD.
 
Its quantitative analysis capabilities include isotopic labeling strategies such as iTRAQ and TMT.
 
Thermo Fisher this week also unveiled its TMT tags, which use isobaric mass tagging chemistry for multiplexed global protein quantitation. The tags enable researchers to identify and quantitate protein-expression levels from multiple samples. The chemistry allows efficient transition from method development to multiplex quantitation, resulting in quicker biomarker discovery, the company said.
 
The tags are based on technology developed and patented by Proteome Sciences. In April Thermo Fisher licensed the technology from Proteome Sciences [See PM 04/10/08].

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