PittCon in the Windy City

C&I Issue 7, 2009

PittCon 2009 had a surprisingly optimistic feeling, despite a fall in exhibitor and attendee numbers, like Informex earlier in the year (C&I 2009, 5, 14). Certainly the recent approval of the Obama administration’s fiscal stimulus package was a major factor, as laboratory equipment suppliers see that the boost it has given science will also mean increased demand for their products. Jeff Wyatt, of light scattering specialist, Wyatt Technology, said: ‘Despite Big Pharma consolidation, there is increased interest [in our products] from government laboratories.’

During the current economic downturn, the pressure is on all laboratories to maximise efficiencies and their investment in human capital, despite headcount reductions and staff shortages. This can be achieved through the introduction of greater automation and also improved staff training.

Speaking at PittCon, Joe Liscousky, from the US Institute of Laboratory Automation, said that laboratory automation is now no longer an optional choice. ‘It is the way that things get done,’ he said, adding: ‘Science is now taking second place if one looks at PittCon exhibits.’ Liscousky quoted a recent remark made by Al Correia from Cambridge Biotech, Massachusetts, US, who described laboratory automation as ‘the introduction of a small scale “scientific manufacturing operation” and its products are knowledge, information and data’. But before automating a laboratory, it is essential to understand all aspects of its operations, emphasised Liscousky.

Mass spectrometry
If one instrument type set the overall tone, it was the mass spectrometer with an array of new and upgraded units from the major suppliers, and details of the broad range of applications for which MS is now being used. As an analytical technique, MS has moved from the preserve of skilled researchers, out into the mainstream, with units than can easily be operated by non-expert users – a major trend that addresses the productivity and cost pressures on laboratories today.

Shimadzu Scientific Instruments introduced a gel permeation chromatography (GPC) mass spectrometer for quick analysis of ultra-trace substances such as impurities and additives in plastics and synthetic polymers. The GPC-AccuSpot-Axima combines a high-resolution GPC system, the AccuSpot fully automated fraction collection and spotting device, and an Axima series MALDI-TOF mass spectrometer. To fully automate the process, Shimadzu redesigned its AccuSpot, a high-capacity liquid chromatography spotting system specifically designed for MS analysis, to make it compatible with standard GPC organic solvents. The device mixes the GPC eluent with MALDI matrix solution online and automatically deposits the resulting solution onto the MALDI sample target, resulting in improved efficiency and productivity.

The discontinuation of Edman sequencers in 2008 by the market leading manufacturer has prompted the protein sequencing community to search for alternative, next generation technologies. So-called bottom-up proteomics methods, which are excellent for identifying and quantifying proteins, are not suitable for complete protein sequence determination and validation, which also requires N- and C-terminal mapping.

Bruker Daltonics, therefore, launched two solutions for rapid protein sequence validation based on high-performance MALDI-TOF mass spectrometry and unique software algorithms, specifically employing rapid MALDI-ISD (In-Source Decay) to fragment intact proteins across a wide mass range in fractions of a second, and without prior protein digestion. The Edmass Ultra can directly identify and validate C- and N-terminal sequence information in a mass spectrometer very rapidly and again without prior protein digestion. The Edmass Micro solution is based on a cost-effective, bench-top, linear microFlex LT MALDI-TOF. Using push-button methods suitable for walk-up use and operation by lab technicians, it provides a compact, efficient and easy-to-use solution for top-down sequence validation in protein research and QC of recombinant proteins.

Bruker Daltonics has also opened its Massachusetts demonstration facility for the ultra-high resolution time-of-flight (UHR-TOF) maXis mass spectrometer, said to be the only high-performance mass spectrometer available today that simultaneously fulfills the two previously incompatible requirements in modern mass spectrometry of ultra-high mass resolution and fast ultra-high performance liquid chromatography (UHPLC) separations.

Determination of dryer end-point with process mass spectrometry can reduce solvent drying times for tablets and other pharmaceutical products from 30 to 60%, according to Ametek Process Instruments after reviewing the results of dozens of installations of its ProMaxion mass spectrometry systems and comparing continuous real-time monitoring with manual Loss of Drying Analysis. With drying times ranging from 24 to 130 hours, depending on the type of product and batch size, there are significant cost savings. The ProMaxion spectrometer continuously monitors solvent vapours in the headspace of the dryer while the process is running. When the instrument detects a predetermined value, indicating that the required amounts have been removed from the product, drying is complete. No operator intervention is required to determine the exact moment when a product has dried to the required point, giving a 30 to 60% reduction in drying time.

A g i l e n t T e c h n o l o g i e s introduced the 1200 Series HPLC-Chip II, the second generation of its pioneering highperformance nano liquid chromatography/ electrospray system for mass spectrometry. This new chip platform is designed to provide greater than twice the life of the original HPLC-Chip. The company has added proprietary Ion Implantation (II) technology thereby extending life expectancy beyond 1000 injections, depending on the application. The first HPLCChips incorporating the new design are a phosphopeptide chip (for post-translational modifications), the large capacity protein ID chip and the ultrahigh-capacity chip.

The technology will be extended across the entire HPLC-Chip family in coming months. Agilent now offers 12 versions of HPLC-Chips, which are compatible across the entire portfolio of Agilent mass spectrometers for applications that include peptide quantitation, biomarker discovery, targeted phosphopeptide analysis, glycan and monoclonal antibody characterisation, and small molecule DMPK studies. In addition, Agilent’s custom chip service delivers customised solutions to individual needs.

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