Monthly Archives: February 2016

Tackling Rare Childhood Disease Diagnoses with Mass Spectrometry

mass-spectrometry-childhood-diseaseWe’re always excited to hear about the variety of new uses being developed for mass spectrometry and ultra-performance liquid chromatography. Each one means our dedicated benches for mass spectrometers are literally supporting groundbreaking efforts in a variety of fields.

In this post, we want to acknowledge how mass spectrometry is helping scientists improve the diagnoses of two rare childhood diseases.

Tackling Uncommon Diseases

Some childhood illnesses are household names; examples include RSV, croup, chicken pox, and cystic fibrosis. These occur frequently enough that significant research has been conducted—and continues to take place—to address both diagnosis and treatment of these diseases.

However, there are other diseases that, while cumulatively affecting many children, receive much less attention for diagnosis and treatment due to their relatively lower rates of occurrence.

Fortunately, in recent decades, researchers have begun to better address these less-common diseases and disorders, with advances in modern lab capabilities acting as a major factor in their increased success.

Testing Subtypes and Finding Markers

Sometimes part of the problem with rarer diseases is determining subtypes. Congenital disorders of glycosylation (CDGs) are one set of rare disorders that appear in a variety of forms. With all CDGs, the body cannot form glycoproteins or glycolipids.

Current tests determine the presence of CDG by detecting variations in the glycoprotein transferrin, but they cannot distinguish the various subtypes. Since treatment is available for only one subtype, this lack of specificity has real-world consequences.

To further refine diagnostic processes, researchers isolated two types of sugars in the body, N-tetrasaccharide and N-linked Man3GlcNAc2. Using liquid chromatography tandem-mass spectrometry (LC-MS/MS), they discovered that a new, specific type of N-tetrasaccharide was only present in patients with CDG. Furthermore, mass spectrometry revealed that heightened levels of Man3GlcNAc2 were present in two common CDG subtypes (PMM2-CDG and MPI-CDG), thus differentiating them from the third common subtype, ALG1-CDG.

Additional research using mass spectrometry has also revealed that N-tetrasaccharide levels decrease when patients with two types of CDG are treated with a sugar mannose. Previously, only one of those types, MPI-CDG, had a known treatment. This latest discovery provides an avenue for investigating possible treatment options for ALG1-CDG, and potentially other subtypes as well.

Mass Spectrometry Screening for Metachromatic Leukodystrophy

Another childhood disorder in need of additional research is metachromatic leukodystrophy, which causes sulfatide, a fatty substance, to accumulate in various parts of the body.

Newborn screening treatments have traditionally not been sensitive enough to detect the concentration of sulfatides in dried blood. However, mass spectrometry and ultra high performance liquid chromatography (UHPLC) are now being used to reduce signal-to-noise ratios, resulting in an optimized extraction of sulfatides from the traditional dried-blood sample.

Furthermore, the level of specific concentrations of sulfatides has also proven to correlate with disease severity and onset. Higher concentrations of sulfatides, especially of one specific type, species C18:0, clearly indicate an aggressive form of the disease, which manifests in the first two years of life.

Supporting Research with Dedicated Benches for Mass Spectrometry

Exciting research advances like those mentioned here are occurring in part because it’s a lot easier to link and use mass specs and HPLCs than ever before. Our dedicated lab benches are specially designed to maximize the efficiency and safety of these pioneering configurations.

To learn more about setting up your own tandem MS or LC-MS/MS configuration, request a quote today.

Truly Tragic Lab Safety Accidents

tragic-lab-safety-accidentsIn the past, we’ve shared some lighthearted stories about lab safety and the accidents that occurred from a lack of it. But lab safety is serious, and lab accidents sometimes don’t have happy endings. While we recognize that light-hearted stories are great for sharing in the break room, it’s the serious ones that tend to bring lab safety to the forefront of your mind in those moments when it really matters.

Following are some of the most serious lab accidents in history. These are cautionary tales. When it comes to lab safety, you just can’t be too careful, which is why our dedicated lab benches come with so many standard safety features.

A Crushing Blow

A graduate student lost three fingers and suffered serious burns because of his lack of understanding about the materials with which he was working. One key component in lab safety is paying attention, especially when working with materials that are unfamiliar. The group of graduate students in question here were definitely unfamiliar. Their professor told them not to make more than 100 mg of nickel hydrazine perchlorate derivatives. Unfortunately, they either did not pay attention, or chose to ignore the professor’s instructions, and assembled 10 grams of the substance.

They also did not understand the explosive nature of their creation and chose to experiment by crushing it with mortar and pestle. The friction and pressure of this activity triggered an explosion, which cost the student those fingers—and a hard lesson for all involved.

Fatal Secondary Effects

Sometimes it’s what you don’t see that kills you. In Australia, a technician accidentally burned himself in a hydrofluoric acid spill, but those burns were not the cause of his demise. In fact, he only suffered burns over about 9% of his body—but he still died two weeks later. It was the fluoride that the researcher absorbed through his burned skin. It caused such a depletion of calcium in his body that he died from multiple organ failure.

Of course, medicine has, over time, improved to prevent just these types of tragedies. In this case, calcium gluconate gel should have been applied to his burns. This gel would have literally absorbed the fluoride ions so that they were never taken in by his body in the first place. Instead, the researcher was injected with doses of calcium, and of calcium gluconate to offset the loss, and one of his burned legs was amputated. Unfortunately, the damage had been done, and he did not survive. The moral of this story is to keep up with lab safety research and know the latest and greatest treatments for each type of lab accident in which you or your colleagues could conceivably be involved.

Keeping Deadly Substances Safely within Your Lab

Usually with lab safety accidents, it’s not the lab equipment that’s the problem; it’s the human. The well-publicized 1979 anthrax outbreak in Sverdlovsk, Russia, which killed at least 64 people, was initially blamed by the Soviet government on tainted meat. However, years later, it was revealed that a military research facility had been the source of the outbreak—and the cause had been simple negligence. You see, someone forgot to change an exhaust filter in a timely fashion. That oversight resulted in the deaths of scores of people—and it could have been thousands more, if the prevailing winds had been blowing in a different direction!

Lab Safety Takes Many Forms

As these stories reveal, lab safety requires attention, education and timeliness, among other important qualities. There is never a good time to let down your guard in the lab, or do anything short of your best. This is why we have created the best possible dedicated lab benches for use with your mass spectrometers, HPLCs and other research instruments. To learn more about how our benches can contribute to safety in your lab, contact us today.

Quiet Contributes to Better Results and Lab Safety

noise-reduction-mass-spectrometer-benchesWe do think noisy labs are unsafe labs. We’ve already shared more than several posts on the subject. And it’s also true that one of the major reasons we created noise-reducing enclosures for vacuum pumps was to make labs safer by making them quieter. But our mass spectrometer benches can also be beneficial when it comes to the results of your lab tests.

Meet the EMSL Quiet Wing

We’ve talked before about how our world is getting noisier. What researchers are now realizing is that the different types of noise in labs are affecting the results of sensitive experiments. This is especially true when working at the atomic level. Whether it’s vibration, acoustic noise, or electromagnetic fields that have gone astray, these noises are leading research projects astray—and labs are focusing on being more quiet for the sake of results as well as safety.

It’s why the Environmental Molecular Sciences Laboratory (EMSL) built what it calls the Quiet Wing, or Q-Wing. This wing of their research lab was specifically engineered to keep noise out—whether it be an MS vacuum pump or high-speed centrifuge. The Q-Wing opened in 2012 and already they’ve had a significant impact on our understanding of environmental and biological systems.

Quietly Making a Difference

In fact, an initial test-case proved a ten-year-old hypothesis. In the experiment, a high-resolution transmission electron microscope (TEM) witnessed bacteria forming nanoparticulate uraninite. A decade ago, researchers had discovered the uranium ions in isolation and inferred their creation by the bacteria, but this couldn’t be confirmed in the standard noisy lab environment.

Another successful experiment has a multitude of potential applications. Scientists were able to witness bacteria activity using fluorescing quantum dots made of cadmium selenide pellets. This allowed the typically hard to see bacteria to be tracked, even in complex soil solutions. Tracking bacteria helps scientists understand the processes of soil contamination and the interaction between microorganisms and plant roots, for example.

Quiet research is also impacting our understanding of the life of a typical plant. One researcher has been able, in the Quiet Wing, to identify the mechanisms behind an unusual multicopper oxidase that needs two proteins, acting as accessories, to carry out oxidizing activity. Understanding how this process works will expand our understanding of photosynthesis, where it plays a key role.

Another key benefit to an ultra-quiet lab is the ability to decrease the noise introduced by necessary doses of electrons with the TEM. Direct electron detectors can replace charge-coupled devices, decreasing the damage caused by beams of electrons on ultra-sensitive materials. Compression sensing is another way that these quiet labs can mathematically gather imaging information with fewer electrons, creating “the ultimate in low-dose imaging,” according to Scott Lea, an EMSL Q-Wing researcher.

What Does This Have to Do with Noise-Reducing Enclosures for Vacuum Pumps?

Of course, not every lab needs to be as quiet as the Q-Wing, but every lab can benefit from mass spectrometer benches that isolate noise instead of transmitting it. This is because our noise-reducing enclosures for vacuum pumps create a quieter lab where it’s easier to pay focused attention to your experiments, communicate with colleagues, and generally work without irritating—and even damaging—background noises.

Regardless of how quiet your particular lab needs to be, request a quote today to learn more about how our dedicated lab furniture can make a difference in your lab safety and productivity.

Innovative Uses for Mass Spectrometry: Solving Crimes with Fingerprints

mass-spectrometery-fingerprintsIf it isn’t obvious, it should be. We get jazzed by the innovation and science of mass spectrometry. It’s not just because we make dedicated lab furniture. It’s because we think these machines that work on our dedicated lab furniture are amazing, especially how there are always new uses for the information they provide. We recently read about one interesting development and thought we’d share it with you.

Crime Scenes and Fingerprints

Fingerprints have been lifted from crime scenes for over one hundred years. Searching for and capturing those fingerprints has become a standard part of most crime scene investigations—but it’s an all-or-nothing proposition.

You see, if the fingerprint is smudged or partial, it’s often not possible to get enough data for a match that will stand up in court. Also, if the person’s fingerprints aren’t in a database somewhere, because of a prior criminal record or other activities (everything from citizenship and employment applications to military service), there’s no way to make a match with a record that doesn’t exist.

Lifting More than Whorls

Those limitations are changing, however. Traditional fingerprint identification relies on matching the patterns of ridges and whorls on each fingertip, which are unique to each person. But when investigators “lift” a fingerprint (transferring that print to an acetate sheet), they pick up a lot more than patterns. They pick up all sorts of microscopic molecules that become part of the evidence trail and can give investigators additional clues about a potential suspect.

Using Mass Spectrometry to Gather Clues

This is where the mass spectrometry comes in. Using its science, lab technicians at Sheffield Hallam University in England are analyzing materials, no matter how small, that are hidden on or within the fingerprint’s ridges and whorls.

So what are they finding? For starters, analyzing proteins can determine the sex of a suspect. Those proteins can also reveal whether the suspect is using or dealing illegal substances or ingesting particular prescription drugs. Other materials that lodge between fingerprint ridges can point investigators toward what was formerly only obtainable through an autopsy: What the suspect ate for dinner.

In fact, researchers can learn a lot about the lifestyle and recent activities of suspects—for example, cleanliness habits and what compounds they used to wash their hands—and all of these clues can build a more complete profile of a suspect, aiding investigators in their search.

Is it Enough to Crack the Case?

Of course, this new information is only helpful if it will hold up in court, and Sheffield Hallam investigators say that, like with other mass spectrometry evidence, this new application for fingerprint evidence results in data that is accurate enough for a criminal investigation. They say that reliability is the key, and everyone who works in mass spectrometry knows that it is a reliable, proven technology.

We are excited that bright minds continue to come up with new uses for the MS and related technologies. Naturally, we’re thrilled that this means that we can “support” this promising investigative work with our dedicated lab furniture. But we’re also pleased to continue our commitment to follow advances in mass spectrometry science. In fact, if you hear about—or are engaged in—other innovative uses for mass spectrometry, please let us know!