An interesting new technology aims to simplify the most challenging aspect of MS analysis -- ionization – with the potential to create a novel and broadly applicable compound screening device.

It is generally known that traditional MS technologies utilize a range of ionization methods to enable sensitivity of downstream MS analysis. There is typically a trade off between the yield of compound ionization, the type of ionization method, and the material that can be analyzed.

Often, materials must undergo extensive sample preparation in order to arrive at clarified extract suitable for ionization. Furthermore, many MS instruments require extensive mechanical features to create, for instance, the high vacuum and electrode energy needed for ionization and analysis.

A new MS technology was recently developed by researchers at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute which strives to simplify both the sample prep and ionization processes. The development focuses on the properties and chemistries of plasma – a common entity used in electrospray ionization (ESI) -- which contains rich amounts of highly active ions and electrons.

In typical plasma-based ionization, the sample is subjected to high cone voltages and heat in order to generate the charged plume of dispersed charged molecules that are then guided into and subsequently analyzed by the MS. A major difference in this novel approach is the plasma – termed glow discharge plasma – is stable at room temperature and under atmospheric pressure.

The new plasma is amenable to ionization from many surfaces, even a fingertip, making it potentially applicable to analysis of materials ranging from food adulterants, environmental and biological toxins, to quality control analysis of supplements and other products. The broader implications include generalized instruments that can function in remote locations such as screening stations and field sites.

The Blaze system from Intabio is an advanced microfluidic device for detecting and characterizing protein isoforms in samples. The traditional process of analyzing biological samples for changes in protein structure/function typically involves separation of the components by isoeletric focusing, followed by mass spectrometry detection.

The blaze integrates detection, quantitation, and identification into one microfluidic system -- sending proteins for MS analysis following separation and detection. This method alleviates the bottle neck in laborious sample preparation prior to MS, and streamlines the workflow from sample generation to protein characterization. The technology is slated to be released in 2018 and is certain to be a significant time and resource saving solution.