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Bruker, BUSM Mass Spec Center Collaborate on solariX Apps Development

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This story originally ran on Aug. 5.

By Tony Fong

In a bid to further build out applications for its mass spectrometers, in particular its recently launched high-end platforms, Bruker this week announced a collaboration with Catherine Costello, director of the Boston University School of Medicine Center for Biomedical Mass Spectrometry.

The deal covers the solariX FTMS and is aimed at developing new methods for both top-down and bottom-up proteomics and glycomics on the instrument.

Separately, Bruker announced last week the creation of Bruker LabMate, a joint venture with LabMate Asia, to distribute Bruker's mass specs and provide customer service in India.

The deal with Costello, who is also a research professor of biochemistry, biophysics, and chemistry at Boston University, follows a collaboration announced in mid-July with researchers at the University of Warwick in the UK to develop applications for the solariX and the maXis UHR-TOF platforms [see PM 07/23/09].

A Bruker official declined to disclose the financial terms of the collaboration.

In a statement announcing the deal, Bruker said Costello and her colleagues at the mass spec center will develop LC-FTMS/MS methods for the solariX using collision-induced dissociation, electron-capture dissociation, and electron-transfer dissociation for proteomics and glycomics research.

Costello, Bruker added, was already using the company's amaZon ion trap instrument for detailed and high-throughput analyses of glycan structures and recently purchased the solariX platform with a 12 Tesla magnet with a one-year, $1.25 million high-end instrument grant from the National Center for Research Resources at the National Institutes of Health.

The instrument was launched in May [see PM 05/21/09] and will be delivered to Costello's lab by the end of the year, Gary Kruppa, vice president of business development for Bruker Daltonics, which houses Bruker's mass spec business, told ProteoMonitor.

Costello is a recognized expert in glycan structures attached to proteins and peptides, such as oligosaccharides, Kruppa said. Unlike proteins, whose amino acid building blocks are connected in a linear fashion, oligosaccharides "have a wider variety of building blocks that can be functionalized in more ways." In addition, they can be branched, and it is not uncommon to see three points where oligosaccharides can attach to each other, he said.

"So the structures can be incredibly complicated, and you need a lot of MS/MS power in order to elucidate structures," Kruppa said. With the solariX, Costello is especially interested in using "reverse" ETD, a recently developed fragmentation method in which negatively charged carbohydrate ions with multiple charges are reacted with a positively charged reagent ion to induce fragmentation.

Costello and Bruker will be developing new applications for r-ETD, especially for carbohydrate structural analysis.

Costello did not respond to requests for an interview.

According to an NIH database, an award was given to her and the BUSM mass spec center in January for the purchase of a 12 Tesla FTMS from Thermo Fisher Scientific. However, Thermo Fisher does not manufacture such an instrument and apparently those funds were used to purchase the solariX instead.

According to the abstract of that grant, the BUSM mass spec center was interested in a platform that would "provide data-dependent acquisition of high resolution-high mass accuracy spectra, increased sensitivity and reliable performance, with the goal to achieve high throughput, unambiguous identification and complete structural determinations of post-translationally modified proteins and structure elucidation of complex carbohydrates."

The purchase, it added, would allow the school's shared instrumentation laboratory to implement functionality that does not exist at Boston University — online nano-LC and high-throughput nanospray FTMS with ECD and infrared multiphoton dissociation fragmentation.

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"This capability will provide a group of NIH-funded investigators, whose projects are largely translational, with access to high sensitivity, high performance proteomics, and glycomics analyses that focus on full characterization of post-translational modifications, including low-level phosphorylation, nitration, glycosylation and other structurally diverse and/or novel modifications which are keys to elucidating the mechanisms of complex diseases," according to the abstract.

The major areas of clinical and basic research to be done on the instrument include bone resorption/osteogenesis; leukemia and breast cancer; cardiovascular disease; sickle cell disease; Lyme disease; infectious organisms; wound healing in the eye; and protein remodeling that accompanies aging and affects drug stability.

The platform will also be used for research on lymphoma and breast cancer, and protein modifications resulting in amyloid diseases and Huntington's disease, according to the grant abstract. "The proposed instrument system will accelerate progress towards understanding the mechanisms of these diseases and degenerative processes and will thus contribute directly toward improving human health," the researchers said in the abstract.

In a statement, Costello said that research carried out on the solariX is expected to "enhance" the discovery of novel post-translational modifications, including glycosylation. "The availability of ETD, r-ETD, ECD, and multiple stages of CID MS/MS will greatly enhance our capabilities for the structural analysis of novel carbohydrate structures," she said.

According to Bruker, carbohydrates and their conjugates such as glycoproteins and glycolipids are involved in numerous important biological processes, such as immune system recognition and nervous system development, but methods for their full structural characterization "are less developed than for linear biopolymers such as proteins and oligonucleotides."

The solariX, the company said, offers the highest mass resolving power and mass accuracy on the market, making it particularly suitable for analyzing complex mixtures such as those in which carbohydrates are found. The use of top-down and bottom-up proteomics on the solariX, Bruker added, facilitates rapid structural characterization of proteins and the discovery of PTMs that are of particular interest to Costello and her team.

Bruker MS Resurgence

The partnership with Costello is the most recent of several such collaborations that Bruker has forged involving the solariX platform and is part of the company's strategy to draw attention to its most recent mass spec launches. Along with the solariX, other recent mass-spec launches in 2009 include the amaZon and ultrafleXtreme. Bruker also introduced the Edmass mass spec-based protein sequencer in June.

Other collaborations on the solariX include ones with the University of Warwick; André Deelder's lab at Leiden University Medical Center in the Netherlands; and Michael Gross' group at Washington University in St. Louis, Mo.

The Rapid Structure Characterization Laboratory of the Schering-Plough Research Institute in New Jersey purchased the solariX as its FTMS platform but does not have a collaborative deal with Bruker.

Kruppa also said the solariX is benefiting from a static FTMS market. While 2009 has seen the launches of several new mass specs from the top vendors, the FTMS space has been quiet.

"With the introduction of the solariX, especially the ETD front-end, and the improved ease of use … and the low-maintenance magnets, there's definitely increased interest we see in Bruker on the FTMS platforms," Kruppa said.

In fact, Bruker overall seems to be enjoying a recent resurgence in its mass spectrometry business. Last week, it reported double-digit growth in the instruments, with particularly "healthy revenue and order growth year over year" in its suite of high-performance mass specs, company CEO and President Frank Laukien said, even as companywide revenue was off 18.9 percent from the year-ago period.

The company also reported double-digit growth in mass spec revenue during its first quarter when companywide revenues shrank 3.3 percent.

Last week, the company also reported the formation of Bruker LabMate, a mass spec distribution and service joint venture created in partnership with Indian firm LabMate Asia, which had been Bruker's mass spec distributor in India for seven years.

Bruker LabMate will have customer support and technical expertise hubs in Bangalore, Chennai, Delhi, Kolkata, and Mumbai. In an e-mail, Stefan Ruge, executive vice president and chief financial officer of Bruker Daltonics, said the joint venture company will strengthen Bruker's position in the growing Indian market.

"LabMate Asia has been distributing very successful the Bruker MS Life Science systems in India for several years now, and Bruker is the leading provider with its products in the Indian proteomics and biopharmaceuticals markets," he said.

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