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Mass Spectrometry Research Incubator Enhances Life Sciences Research

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Dennis Dean, director of the Institute for Biomedical and Public Health Sciences (IBPHS), announced the creation of a Mass Spectrometry Research Incubator to support the university's life sciences research infrastructure.

Using $26 million for equipment purchases granted by the Commonwealth Research Initiatives, Virginia Tech has acquired two advanced mass spectrometry systems.

“Mass spectrometry is an analytical technique that permits rapid and accurate identification of compounds by determining their size and how they break apart when forced to collide with high energy gases,” Dean said.

“Recent technological improvements permit the rapid identification and quantification of biological macromolecules, such as proteins, using extremely small amounts of materials. This ability permits rapid advances in the biological sciences as we can answer questions that were previously impossible to address.”

The Mass Spectrometry Research Incubator will be used for proteomics and metabolomics study. “For any particular organism, different proteins and metabolites are produced at different times, in different amounts, in different tissues, and in response to different conditions,” Dean said.

“Many pathogens, such as bacteria, infect a host – us, our pets, our crops -- and modify the host’s proteins, which can cause disease,” noted Richard Helm, associate professor of biochemistry, and one of researchers at Virginia Tech who does proteomics research.

“These instruments allow us to determine how the proteins are modified and determine their life history. The goal is to discover and understand the chemical and physical processes involved in all sorts of stress responses, from a human cell responding to a bacterial infection, to a terrestrial microbe adjusting to intense sunlight and a lack of water. We have the ability to create not only a protein profile but a metabolite profile as well. These are extremely exciting times for us.”

Helm, who will oversee the Mass Spectrometry Research Incubator, explains the incubator concept. “This will be an open facility where interested students and investigators can come and discuss their research problems and ideas. We can then formulate a plan to provide the data that can be used in research proposals and/or publications.”

Helm said, “Eventually this will lead to new grants and contracts where investigators collaborate directly with the incubator. Virginia Tech’s teaching and learning environment will also utilize these tools, providing our future life scientists hands-on training in this growing field,”