ASMS 2018: The Evolution of the Industry and the Reality of Next Generation Proteomics

The American Society for Mass Spectrometry (ASMS) 66th annual conference was held in San Diego this past year, June 3rd through the 7th.

The scientific spirit, the weather, and or course the food were enjoyed by many, as once again ASMS delivered interesting, insightful, and engaging scientific content. Two themes appeared to emerge from the abundance of industry and research developments – trends that are foretelling for future directions in the MS field.

Strategic initiatives in the mass spectrometry industry

Commercial trends of the past seemed to focus increasingly on instrument horsepower -- technologies that can offer the fastest, most accurate, highest resolution result, using the least amount of sample and the simplest workflow.

At ASMS 2017, this horsepower theme was overshadowed by the bigger picture concept of efficiency. Space efficiency, operational efficiency, sample prep, maintenance, ease of use – all of which took the spotlight away from traditional performance metrics and redirected it towards user concerns and pain points.

ASMS 2018 witnessed a next step in this evolution -- further movement away from pure technical merit and closer to the realization of strategic initiatives and target markets.

The equation has been inverted - rather than engineer high-performance instruments and search for applications - instead, identify the research or clinical application and engineer high-powered MS solutions to address these targets.

Looking forward, the up-front identification of targets and applications will blend more clearly with the mission and technical strengths of each company -- and progress will come not from sheer horsepower, but from strategic foresight.

New developments and technologies showcased at ASMS 2018

Agilent’s Innovation with Purpose is a main focal point of the company's mass spectrometry solutions -- providing help to improve the science and economics of customer labs and operations.

  • Fully evident at ASMS 2018 were recent investments in new product development and acquisitions -- testaments to the ongoing efficiency trend, which has continued to grow from ASMS 2017 and developments beyond.
  • Latest versions of the powerful MassHunter suite of products, as well as new automated sample prep instrumentation, further support advances in precision and reliability.
  • Agilent’s CrossLab Services are designed to target improvements in lab operational efficiency, with new solutions such as iLab Operations Software – an enterprise web-based management tool for centralized labs and shared resources facilities.

Talks given by leaders of small diagnostic labs and multi-disciplinary labs provided strong, real-world endorsements of the Innovation with Purpose mission.

Shimadzu showcased multiple developments covering the spectrum from novel instrument platforms to strategic partnerships.

  • The New LCMS-9030 Q-TOF system is the first quadrupole TOF hybrid instrument to be released from the company. The same engineering excellence used in the high-performance triple quad LC-MS/MS platform is now integrated with new innovative TOF technology, aimed to push the boundaries for mass accuracy and resolution.
  • Building off the Q-TOF performance, Shimadzu announced collaborations with PREMIER Biosoft to launch a comprehensive lipid and glycan analysis platform, and Protein Metrics for advanced biotherapeutic protein analysis solutions.
  • The Nexera Mikros microfow LC-MS/MS system was also showcased, demonstrating the attributes of rapid and highly sensitive micro LCMS analysis with minimal sample loss – a technology trend that surfaced repeatedly in micro-scale proteomics discussions over the course of the conference.

Many new products and solutions were present, along with a large contingent of Shimadzu engineers and scientists, adding excitement to the occasion.

Bruker further demonstrated their presence in large-scale proteomics and advanced high-throughput technologies with the launch of several new cutting-edge MS solutions.

  • The ScimaX MRMS platform represents a completely new approach towards large-scale, high-resolution analyses for top-down proteomics and phenomics applications. The ground-breaking magnetic resonance mass spectrometer offers unprecedented mass resolution (R > 20,000,000), in a smaller footprint without the need for liquid cryogens. The ultra-high resolution allows coupling with novel front-end devices - such as flow-injection analyses and a switchable MALDI source - for rapid sample ID and label-free imaging for PK/PD studies in drug development. This instrument might very well be a game changer in a space currently occupied by larger and more complicated FT-MS instrument platforms.
  • Also showcased was the newly launched timsTOF Pro for next generation proteomics users. This unique nano LC-TIMS-MS/MS platform uses four dimensions (4D) of separation, with the dual Trapped Ion Mobility Spectrometry (TIMS) coupled with the PASEF (Parallel Accumulation Serial Fragmentation) method. This is a platform that may offer unprecendented achievements in high-throughput, ultra-high sensitivity proteomics.

By integration with sample handling technologies and recent product collaborations (such as the Evosep separation devices), Bruker has demonstrated considerable investment in the high-throughput clinical proteomics and phenomics areas.

SCIEX announced the latest innovations for improving accuracy and user-friendliness of MS technologies for healthcare applications.

A strategic focus for SCIEX has been the clinical and diagnostics markets, with recently released platform technologies targeted at Vitamin D analysis and other clinical analytes.

These technologies, coupled with discussions of clinical applications of multi-omics research initiatives, further affirm the position of SCIEX as a clinically-focused MS solutions provider.

Waters showcased their range of technologies targeted at the food safety, food authenticity, and biomedical research areas.

  • The new Xevo TQ-GC System was previewed, with the official launch to follow later in 2018. The system is designed to consistently meet or exceed limits of detection for pesticides quantification, as set forth by worldwide regulatory authorities. This system is a complement to the Xevo LC-MS systems for greater coverage of pesticides in various backgrounds.
  • The DART QDa with LiveID System was introduced for rapid fingerprinting of food commodities, ingredients, and processed products. Together with the LiveID software platform, the instrument can perform sample recognition, authenticity, or adulterant detection on the seconds timescale.
  • The Acquity QDa is a practical solution for use as an educational package developed for undergraduate training.

Co-marketing agreements with Elucidata and Biognosys expand Waters’ reach into the cloud software metabolomics analysis and high-throughput clinical proteomics areas. A host of further developments demonstrates the power and scope of Waters strategic vision and the strong sense for market opportunities.

The reality of Next Generation Proteomics

Several crucial elements have alligned to bring the concept of true next generation proteomics into the realm of possibility.

  • The era of big data has necessitated cutting-edge processing methods and tools. Those that are in use and others being currently developed are designed to handle the rigor of complex sample sets. Larger sample cohorts lead to greater statistical power -- which in turn leads to higher confidence and actionable results.
  • The speed of new MS technologies has meant that hundreds or thousands of samples can be interrogated on the time scale of hours or even minutes. Ultra high-throughput and massively parallel processing are certainly within sight.
  • Sample prep has always been a bottleneck, with sample complexity and variability causing downstream convolution of MS data and interpretation. New sample conditioning technologies, automated liquid handling, and ultra-high performance LC systems have streamlined processing and sample throughput significantly.
  • The re-vitalized trend of microflow LC separations technologies, many of which were showcased at ASMS 2018, has enabled lower sample consumption with higher levels of experimental power. These LC systems can now handle true microflow, without struggling with sample precipitation, column fouling, diverter valves, and all the other aspects at play with traditional LC-MS systems.
  • Resolution. With new instruments able to achieve resolution of 10,000,000 or more, the issue of sample complexity takes on different meaning. Cutting edge technologies aim to discern complete cellular protein profiles, without abundant protein depletion or multiplexed separations or analysis.

All of these elements are in line -- speed, performance, sample size, resolving power, data interpretation -- and conditions are right for the next big achievement.

Could it be single-cell proteomics? Or perhaps mass spectrometry based personalized proteomics?

Only time will tell, but we seem to be moving in those directions.

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