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Trends in NMR: Current perspectives and future directions

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From its development in the late 1940s and early 1950s, NMR spectroscopy has gone on to become the predominant method for the analysis of organic compounds, as, in many cases, it helps determine an entire structure using a single set of analytical tests. The value NMR offers researchers has seen its use expand outside of the traditional organic chemistry applications.

To discover the current trends of NMR and where this technique is heading, we spoke with Dr Clemens Anklin, VP at Bruker Biospin or (according to this Twitter page) an ‘Actual living scientist doing NMR for a living.’ Since collecting his first spectra in 1978, Dr Anklin has been directly involved in some of the milestones of NMR application development.

AB: What are the current trends in applying NMR?

Clemens Anklin (CA): There are many areas where NMR can contribute, including the change in the application of NMR spectroscopy: in metabolomics, for example, by collecting large amounts of spectra and gathering underlying data on metabolites, statistical analysis can reveal markers for a certain disorder or disease. When subsequently measuring ‘unknown’ samples, outliers from the normal dataset may indicate disease. This takes NMR and places it in the hands of clinical scientists.

In the area of biopharma, researchers are now using NMR for the characterisation of the structure of monoclonal antibodies (mAbs). Moreover, as a biologic drug moves into pilot-scale or full production, process scientists are relying on NMR to evaluate and optimise the nutritional status of growth media. Elsewhere in the pharmaceutical industry, the use of fluorine in small molecule drugs has increased, which has driven an uptake of NMR spectroscopy, as cryoprobes are capable of detecting fluorine.

AB: What are the most interesting trends in the technology of NMR?

CA: There are exciting new areas for the common chemist as, traditionally, NMR is a research tool. However, now there is an increasing trend for NMR becoming an analytical tool. The key example of this is in the food sciences. Food as an industry is more regulated in Europe than the US for origin and authenticity. In current applications, we are screening wine for origin as well as for what grapes are used for each individual bottle. Unless you are a skilled wine connoisseur, who with training and experience can tell you about the bottle of wine you are about to consume, with NMR the user can establish if the wine in front of them is a pure Californian, for example, or has been mixed with other grapes.

Additionally, for other food and drink items such as fruit juices and honey, NMR has the power to determine which country the apples have come from for an apple juice, or in orange juice, whether the oranges in question have been cut before being squeezed. It is really quite incredible.

AB: What is your latest advance in NMR?

Our latest advance in NMR is the AVANCE NEO. This is a next generation on its predecessor’s architecture for providing NMR expertise, with improved performance, faster control, improved dynamic range and greater flexibility and scalability.

The principle is a ‘transceive’ standard, meaning each NMR channel has both transmit and receive capabilities. So each channel is its own independent spectrometer with the full RF generation, transmission and receive infrastructure. This architecture provides the greatest flexibility in terms of instrument configuration and multi-channel operation.

AB: Where do you see NMR heading in the future?

CA: We are seeing NMR in the future becoming more of a standard method. Now we are getting to the point where we are making the answers easier. Computer-assisted structure elucidation is one area, so if a user has a sample and collects spectra, there is software that will give structure proposals. We see the hardware and software improvements running in parallel.

We are seeing NMR being used in the diagnosis of metabolic disorders in newborn babies. One simple NMR experiment can detect between 30-40 metabolic disorders. In other disease analysis, we see other applications of NMR in the diagnostics field in the laboratory analytics tests, rather than clinical.

Dr Clemens Anklin was speaking to Ash Board PhD, Editorial Director at Technology Networks.