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By Julia Boguslavsky 

July 14, 2004 | The annual meeting of the American Society for Mass Spectrometry (ASMS) has always been the playground for the latest innovations in mass spectrometry. The 2004 ASMS conference, held May 23-27 in Nashville, showcased a number of new instruments, reagents, and software geared at proteomic profiling and protein biomarker discovery.

Agilent introduced its HPLC-Chip/MS technology to replace traditional liquid chromatography columns. Smaller than a credit card, the reusable polymer microfluidic HPLC-Chip integrates the sample enrichment and separation capability of a nanoflow LC system with the intricate connections and spray tips used in electrospray MS. By eliminating half of the traditional fittings and connections typically required in an LC/MS system, the chip reduces leaks and dead volumes, Agilent says.

Despite their small size, HPLC-Chips can incorporate internal columns up to 20 cm in length and any available packing material used for chromatographic separations. The company expects the first applications of the HPLC-Chip to focus on proteomics. However, the design flexibility will allow Agilent to incorporate multidimensional separation and sample preparation onto single chips — a plug-and-play approach for non-expert users.

PLUG-IN: Agilent's microfluidic HPLC-Chip interfaces with the company's mass spectrometer.
Waters introduced its Micromass Q-Tof Premier MS, a hybrid quadrupole, orthogonal acceleration time-of-flight MS that enables automated exact mass measurement of precursor and fragment ions to yield the highest confidence for metabolism studies, proteomics, and structural analyses. A unique feature of the Q-Tof Premier is programmable dynamic range enhancement, which enables quantification and exact mass measurement over a significantly extended sample concentration range. The Q-Tof Premier is available with a vacuum MALDI source configured for high-density target plates for proteomics applications.

Waters is pairing the Q-Tof Premier with the Acquity Ultra Performance LC system for metabolite and impurity identification or the nanoAcquity UPLC system (also introduced at ASMS 2004) for multiplexed quantitative and qualitative protein profiling. Waters also launched the Waters Micromass MALDI micro MX, a new MALDI-TOF MS with novel parallel post-source decay capability.

Bruker Daltonics says its new ultrOTOF-Q ESI-Q-q-TOF MS offers two orders of magnitude improvement in sensitivity. Applications include expression proteomics, biomarker discovery, and small-molecule analysis in metabolomics or natural products research.

Protein Biomarkers Take Center Stage 
With biomarker discovery and proteomics in mind, Thermo Electron introduced the MDLC LTQ platform (co-developed with GE Healthcare). This high-end LC/MS system includes GE Healthcare's new multidimensional chromatography system, the Ettan MDLC, and the Thermo Finnigan LTQ linear ion trap mass spectrometer for maximum experimental versatility and analytical precision.

Applied Biosystems brought out its iTRAQ reagents, which allow researchers to simultaneously measure expression profiles of multiple samples. Unlike the ICAT reagents, which were introduced in 2001 and offered the first quantitative labeling strategy using cysteine, the iTRAQ reagents can label all peptides for broader proteome coverage, detection of post-translational modifications, and comparison of up to four samples in the same experiment. The iTRAQ reagents are compatible with the QSTAR and Q TRAP LC/MS/MS systems and will become available on the Applied Biosystems 4700 Proteomics Analyzer this summer.

Bruker Daltonics expanded its ClinProt magnetic bead product line to include weak anion and cation exchange beads, as well as immobilized metal affinity capture beads. The semi-selective magnetic bead arrays for sample cleanup provide clinical researchers with a flexible tool for biomarker discovery and assay protocol optimization. According to Bruker, the cost of using ClinProt magnetic bead arrays has dropped to $2 per assay.

Julia Boguslavsky is conference director for Cambridge Healthtech Institute. E-mail: 

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