From a proteomics perspective, the annual Pittcon meeting, held this week in Atlanta, Ga., was a quiet affair, with the majority of instrument vendors spotlighting their existing product offerings in lieu of new releases.
The week's most significant launch came from Bruker, which introduced the next generation of its maXis mass spectrometer line, the maXis 4G UHR-QTOF. According to CEO Frank Laukien, the machine offers so-called "full sensitivity resolution" of greater than 60,000 FWHM and mass accuracy better than 600 ppb at acquisition rates of up to 30 full spectra per second.
With four-plus orders of quantitative dynamic range, the platform is "an excellent small-molecule and bottom-up proteomics system," Laukien said, adding that it's also well-suited for "intact protein analysis and biopharma QC."
Bruker introduced the original maXis three years ago at the annual conference of the American Society for Mass Spectrometry. At the time, the company said the instrument was designed to provide high resolution and accuracy at speeds compatible with the UPLC platforms – such as Waters' Acquity UPLC – that were then coming onto the market (PM 06/05/2008).
According to executive vice president Ian Sanders, Bruker has actually been shipping the new system for roughly six months. Adjustments made to the older version last year raised its FSR from the 40,000 FWHM range up to 60,000. Once the company established that this boost in performance was consistent, it decided to announce the new release at Pittcon rather than wait until ASMS this June.
Sanders also shed some light on a future Bruker mass spec release, telling ProteoMonitor that the company intends to add a triple quadrupole LC/MS system to its product offerings using the triple-quad technology it obtained when it purchased three Varian product lines – including a gas chromatography triple-quadrupole mass spec – from Agilent as part of that firm's Varian buy (PM 05/21/2010).
"We now have the core triple-quad technology within the company," Sanders said, noting that adapting the GC instrument to an LC platform wouldn't be particularly challenging. "That was one of the prime reasons for the Varian acquisition."
Agilent also raised the possibility of new mass spec instruments stemming from its share of the Varian purchase, with Nick Roelofs, president of the company's Life Sciences division, noting at Pittcon that ion trap technology has become "a very interesting area since we've gained some R&D capabilities in [ion] trap" from the acquisition.
"We're very interested in what will happen to the trap market long term," he said, calling 2D ion traps – which are widely used in proteomics research – "a great technology."
Agilent launched at the meeting its Intelligent System Emulation Technology, or ISET, which allows its 1290 Infinity LC to emulate HPLC and UHPLC methods on other LC platforms. The company first previewed the technology at the HPLC 2010 conference last June, during which Michael Frank, product manager of HPLC systems and solutions, said ISET would enable the 1290 to emulate any other system from Agilent's 1100 and 1200 product lines, allowing total method reproducibility across the platforms (PM 06/25/2010).
Researchers would be able to "select any other LC to be emulated by a simple mouse click," he said.
The release is part of a strategy broadly adopted over the last year by LC vendors to make their UPLC products backwards compatible with preexisting HPLC products in hopes of driving uptake of the new technology (PM 01/07/2011).
The ISET system, Roelofs said, "immediately allows people to replace products with new technologies from Agilent and then transfer the methods to either higher pressure or whatever the new methodology may be."
Dionex similarly highlighted its efforts to increase compatibility between its HPLC and UPLC platforms, calling attention to the release – also at HPLC 2010 – of its UHPLC+ product, which raised all of the company's HPLC systems to 600 bar and its RSLC systems to 1,000 bar, providing complete UPLC compatibility across its full product range.
Fraser McLeod, senior director of product marketing, said the platform "has had the highest adoption rate of any launch" that Dionex has ever done, both in terms of its "existing customer base as well as new customers."
Dionex is currently being acquired by Thermo Fisher Scientific, which reiterated at Pittcon its goal of having the deal finished by early Q2. During the firm's presentation, Thermo CEO Marc Casper called Dionex's "rapidly growing liquid chromatography business… incredibly complementary to our leadership position in mass spectrometry."
In particular, he noted the company's strong presence in the Asia-Pacific market, where Dionex currently generates more than 35 percent of its revenues compared to 17 percent for Thermo Fisher.
LC was a key theme for other vendors as well, with Waters introducing several chromatography tools including its Acquity UPSFC system – which the company said offers up to 10 times shorter sample runs and reduces solvent usage by up to 95 percent – and its Acquity UPLC with 2D technology for use with particularly complex samples.
Bruker's Laukien spoke about the company's recently announced purchase of nano-LC firm Michrom Biosciences (PM 2/25/2011), saying that the acquisition, which the company expects to close early in the second quarter, "is focused on proteomics initially."
Bruker isn't "trying to become an LC company, but in LC/MS we want to have technology leadership," he added.
AB Sciex likewise discussed applications for its nano-LC pick-up from last year, Eksigent (PM 2/19/2010). The company's Pittcon presentation focused on its use of Eksigent's nano-LC platforms in dried blood spot analysis – a technique that could save costs and streamline sample collection and storage.
Scientists at contract research firm Alturas Analytics are using Eksigent nano-LC systems attached to AB Sciex QTRAP 5500 mass spectrometers to develop workflows for the analysis of dried blood spots – which are significantly easier to take and store than conventional sample formats – for pharmaceutical and biotech work.
According to Eksigent general manager Don Arnold, the dried blood spot work has thus far focused on drug development assays. However, scientists unaffiliated with the AB Sciex work are also exploring the use of dried blood spots as a sample source for proteomics research, suggesting that the Eksigent-AB Sciex project could have broader applications.
In particular, Stephen Johnston, director of the Center for Innovations in Medicine at Arizona State University's Biodesign Institute, is developing diagnostics based on immunosignaturing – a technique for broadly profiling antibody expression levels via random-sequence peptide arrays – that utilize dried blood spots as samples (PM 2/04/2011).
The focus on LC – and the many recent LC-firm acquisitions – reflects a broader trend by mass spec vendors toward "whole solutions as opposed to component pieces," Arnold told ProteoMonitor. "We've seen proteomics move from the discovery phase. Now how are we going to use the [discovered biomarkers] and get more throughput?"
Vendors "aren't necessarily looking for customers to buy a bit and buy a bit and put it all together. They're looking more to be a one-stop shop," he said. "We're going to more complicated workflows. We want to have one point for sales, service, and support. You want to run lots of samples, you want to make it as easy as possible."
"I think the overall focus in mass spectrometry is around workflows," agreed Iain Mylchreest, vice president and general manager of Life Sciences Mass Spectrometry at Thermo Fisher. "If you look at anything we're developing now it's entirely workflow driven."
"It's from sample preparation all the way through to the informatics," he said. "That’s key. The box is very important in terms of the technology, but you've got to enable that technology."
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