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Improved Cancer Biomarker Analyses

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Last week saw Labcyte announce a $1 million award from the National Cancer Institute (NCI) for the creation of an innovative process to detect cancer-related proteins in samples. The collaboration with Canary Center and Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center will initially focus on breast cancer detection. 

We spoke with Joe Olechno, Senior Research Fellow at Labcyte to understand more about the collaboration, its research and the reasons why Labcyte were selected.

AB:  How did the collaboration with the Canary Center and Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center come about?
Joe Olechno (JO): Dr. Mark Stolowitz, the Director of the Proteomics Core Facility at the Canary Center for Cancer Early Detection at Stanford, was aware that the Labcyte acoustic  technology had the ability to transfer small volumes of fluid directly onto surfaces. Unlike traditional liquid handlers, the material never comes into physical contact with a pipette or nozzle. Instead, it is ejected from its container by acoustic energy and the droplet of fluid travels to the appropriate destination. The droplets are small, in the system he is using they are 160 pL. (A picoliter, pL, is one-millionth or one-millionth of a liter. A droplet of ink 160 pL has a diameter of about 60 microns. That is  roughly the diameter of a human hair and significantly smaller than the diameter of the period at the end of this sentence.) While small, the system can eject droplets rapidly at 500 droplets per second. Dr. Stolowitz first became aware of our technology via his interest in imaging mass spectrometry. Labcyte instrumentation has been well used to transfer miniscule droplets of MALDI matrix, enzymes and reagents to tissue samples in preparation for imaging studies. (http://www.mc.vanderbilt.edu/root/vumc.php?site=ims and http://www.maldi-msi.org/). Dr. Stolowitz quickly realized that our technology would work well with his ideas for improved cancer biomarker analyses.

AB: What are the aims of this research?
JO: Our aim is that the automated platform with a state-of-the-art MALDI mass spectrometer operating with a 5 kHz laser will simultaneously rapidly quantitate cancer biomarkers from 96 samples. We plan demonstrate throughput at least 10-fold faster than current LC-MS/MS approaches that use Multiple Reaction Monitoring (MRM). While increasing the throughput dramatically and thus reducing costs, we will achieve comparable or better sensitivity, reproducibility, and dynamic range than analyses using triple quad mass spectrometry.

AB: Why were Labcyte chosen?
JO: Labcyte was initially chosen because our existing Portrait spotter met the requirements Dr. Stolowitz had for transferring liquids. The acoustic technology is extremely precise and accurate. Since nothing physically touches the fluid, there is no chance for cross-contamination and there is no opportunity for compounds to leach from plastic tips. The acoustic technology transfers a wide range of fluids regardless of surface tension. It easily transfers fluids that are saturated with MALDI matrix. Our standard instrument could be immediately repurposed for his needs.

AB: What are the current issues with detecting cancer-related proteins in samples? How do Labcyte instruments help overcome these?
JO: The best techniques to quantitate biomarkers today have excellent sensitivity, reproducibility and dynamic range. However, they use liquid chromatography as an intrinsic step. Liquid chromatography (HPLC) is a relatively slow technique requiring minutes. The new technique eliminates the HPLC step and increases throughput by an order of magnitude. Not only does this have an impact on real-time analyses as in, for example, surgery but it means that a single lab can easily increase its output without extra manpower and thereby reduce the costs to the lab and, eventually to the consumer. The new technique is also very amenable to automation and opens the possibility of analyses being run 24/7.

Joe Olechno was speaking to Ashley Board, Managing Editor for Technology Networks. You can find Ashley on  and follow Technology Networks on Twitter.