Engineers at Purdue University have created a miniature mass spectrometer that has great potential in a variety of diagnostic applications. The National Science Foundation reports the instrument, which measures 13.5 x 8.5 x 7.5 inches and weighs just 22 pounds, is touted as 30 times smaller than the average mass spectrometer in use today [it’s a good deal more attractive, too — ed.]
DESI promises to be an important “high-throughput” tool to collect large amounts of data used in “metabolomics,” a field in which researchers search for chemical compounds called biomarkers. These biomarkers are early warnings of disease, but they can be difficult to spot among the hundreds of distinct chemicals normally present in the urine, blood or serum of healthy people. The DESI experiment allows testing to be done without separating the compounds of interest from biological fluids, Cooks said.
“For example, we can place a small drop of urine on filter paper and then test the samples, recording a mass spectrum, which gives all the components of the urine,” Cooks said. “Then we identify the individual components in another quick step.
“This two-step procedure, which is known as tandem mass spectrometry, allows us to rapidly confirm the presence of hundreds of components in a urine sample…”
Currently, metabolomics is carried out using a technique called nuclear magnetic resonance. DESI, however, could be used to more quickly and accurately analyze a person’s urine for the presence of diseases revealed by biomarkers, Cooks said.
The researchers also have used DESI to detect residues from explosives, and the paper includes a table showing various explosives the scientists have detected with DESI.
“We really don’t know of any explosives that we can’t detect,” Wiseman said [doctoral student Justin Wiseman at Purdue -ed.].