New protein-analysis technology could prove boon to drugmakers

Oct. 20, 2005
Researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology have developed a device that may significantly reduce the time needed to analyze proteins.

The AMUSE (Array of Micromachined Ultra Sonic Electrospray) ion source, developed by Georgia Tech researchers, improves upon conventional electrospray-ionization devices.

A stroboscopic image of a jet of droplets generated by AMUSE at a rate of more than a million droplets per second. The ability to produce very fine (only a few micrometers in diameter) charged droplets is critical to efficient mass-spectrometric analysis.

The AMUSE (Array of Micromachined Ultra Sonic Electrospray) Ion Source could help perfect new drugs more quickly and bring down the cost of protein analysis.

"It has the potential to completely change the landscape of this field," says Andrei Fedorov, an associate professor at Georgia Tech, who leads the project. The device is a critical component of a mass spectrometer, an instrument that can detect proteins present even in ultrasmall concentrations by measuring the relative masses of ionized atoms and molecules.

Before the mass spectrometer can analyze a sample, molecules comprising the sample must be converted to gas-phase-charged ions. Conventional Electrospray Ionization (ESI) does this by evaporating charged droplets obtained through spraying or bubbling.

Georgia Tech's AMUSE technology is said to have several big advantages over ESI. The new technology divides the ionization into two parts, aerosolization and protein-charging. This lets it operate with a wide range of solvents. In addition, the new method works with super-small samples. And because it is a "high-throughput" microarray device, it can analyze many more samples at a time than a conventional electrospray device.

The innovation will especially benefit the pharmaceutical industry, which must test a large number of compounds on an even larger number of proteins to determine their effect. And in addition to handling a much higher number of samples, AMUSE can be produced more cheaply than conventional ESI devices. The new technology could produce samples for a few dollars apiece versus around $150 for the conventional devices, a key step toward more affordable mass spectrometers.

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