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Mass Spectrometry Workflow Solutions Top Lab Managers’ Wish Lists at ASMS 2017

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Streamlining workflows and easing lab manager “pain points” were common themes at this year’s annual meeting of the American Society of Mass Spectrometry (ASMS).

Held from June 4-8, in Indianapolis, instrument vendors took the opportunity to tout the robustness of their systems and introduce next-generation machines that boost throughput, reduce crowding, and simplify operations for non-expert users.

According to a survey of 700 lab managers—commissioned by Agilent and carried out by Frost and Sullivan—40% of lab managers said they need help optimizing workflows to improve productivity and throughput in the lab. “Half of these respondents identified improving productivity and throughput as the best way instruments can improve workflow, with a quarter identifying streamlined processes,” says Monty Benefiel, vice president and general manager of Agilent’s Mass Spectrometry Division.

Agilent’s big launch at this year’s ASMS was the Ultivo Triple Quadupole LC/MS, which measures just 32 cm x 29 cm x 79 cm —70% smaller than the 6460, Agilent’s most popular triple quad ever. According to Benefiel, “[Ultivo is] small, yet powerful, facilitates easy maintenance and serviceability for improved uptime and uses simplified, application-specific software that is fit for its purpose,” Benefiel adds. The machine, to put it simply, addresses customers’ pain points. “They told us: Make it small, make it easy, but don’t compromise on performance.” It has been designed to be part of an LC stack, which provides even more opportunity to save space. A redesign of ion optics and the collision cell enables high-efficiency ion transmission in the quadrupoles despite the machine’s diminutive stature.

Shimadzu previewed the MALDI-8020, marking Shimadzu’s return to benchtop MALDI-TOF MS. The space-saving system boasts performance specifications similar to those of larger, more expensive MALDI-TOF models and design features that improve routine workflows and facilitate maintenance to maximize instrument up-time. An integrated barcode scanner will allow a seamless workflow from loading samples to obtaining results. “All the analyst has to do is insert the target and press start," says Brian Field, biotech product manager at Shimadzu Scientific instruments, which aims to make the system accessible to as many labs as possible.  The instrument is only half a meter in width and one meter tall, data can be acquired within 90 seconds of inserting the sample thanks to a 200 Hz laser. “Its compact size minimizes bench space, it allows rapid analysis, and it provides simplified workflows,” Fields says.

Thermo Scientific introduced two new quadrupole mass spectrometers for quantitative workflows. The TSQ Altis Triple Stage Quadrupole offers sensitivity, selectivity and speed while providing analytical flexibility and reproducibility for demanding applications. The TSQ Quantis Triple Stage Quadrupole mass spectrometer, which the company calls "a true quantitative workhorse," supports reliable workflows that combine ease of use with the highest possible data. The instrument control software for both offers automated compound optimization and new tools for streamlined, intuitive method setup. When combined with the company’s TraceFinder Software, which addresses requirements from sample introduction to report generation, analytical scientists can improve the targeted quantitation analysis of complex molecule types with simplified workflows.

Instrument makers are also innovating to minimize downtime—a challenge three-quarters of lab managers characterized as “significant” in Agilent’s survey.  "Customers nowadays can't afford downtime. In most labs, the operators are being asked to run more samples, on more instruments," says Shimadzu GCMS Product Manager Nicole Lock. Shimadzu’s GCMS-TQ8050 provides "unheard of" detector life for a triple quad MS, she says, lasting almost as long as a single quad detector. The ion optics have been completely redesigned to fit within a cartridge, so service is as easy as swapping out the cartridge.

Instrument makers are also working to improve the ease of use of mass spectrometry for the non-mass spectrometrist. According to Professor Rick Yost, a chemistry professor at the University of Florida, the number of mass spectrometrists has stayed at around 1,000 for the last 20 years, while the number of users has grown to outnumber them by about 5-fold. "One of the biggest challenges that we see as an instrument manufacturer in the lab today is the fact that we need to have simple to use systems that are able to reach the sensitivities that people need for today's market," Lock says. "What we're finding is that our operators are not all mass spectrometrists like they used to be. This means that everything from hardware, to method creation, all the way through post-processing, this overall package needs to be easy to use ."  

The evolution of complete workflow offerings and simplified interfaces for non-expert users is particularly important for food, forensic, and environmental applications.  “[These customers] are molecular biologics, chemists, food scientists,” says Jean-Paul Mangeolle, president at Sciex. “They are not expecting us to just come up with an instrument. They have an expectation that we make the instrument easier to use and with user-friendly software.” In food applications, Sciex’s SWATH  data independent acquisition technique allows scientists to survey samples for every detectable chemical contaminant present. “It's a big advantage to a food scientist if you are able to identify in a sample any type of pesticides you have, not just the one you are looking for,” Mageolle says.  In environmental testing, SWATH coupled with X500R collects ultra-high quality MS and MS/MS on all detectable peaks in water quality samples, where there are hundreds of contaminants, some in the low nanograms per liter range.  In forensic analysis, it collects comprehensive MS and MS/MS data from a single sample and creates a digital archive of the results, so samples can be re-interrogated without physical re-analysis.