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By-the-slice MS imaging
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – Protein Discovery Inc., introduced in mid-January a service that offers MALDI mass spectrometry tissue imaging for a flat rate of $1,200 per sample.
Tissue Imaging By-the-Slice, which Protein Discovery performs in-house, expands the company's offerings to fit varied client needs and budgets. Andrea Mravca, vice president, sales and marketing, says tissue imaging is underutilized because of expense and difficulty. "Not only does it require costly and specialized equipment—that you may or may not need for anything else you set up—but it also takes skilled personnel, and this is an emerging field."
By-the-Slice service is an entry-level turnkey program that looks at a fixed number of pixels (8,000) and provides a standardized report including raw data, an optical image of the slice, plus three ion density profile images. "We pick out three masses that we think look interesting that are representative and we include those in the report," says Mravca.
"We send all the raw data to the customer so they can interrogate the data how they want." For now, proteins and peptides, but not small molecules, are revealed under By-the-Slice, though customers may contract with Protein Discovery for custom, comprehensive services. The imaging process preserves the spatial arrangement of tissue slices and requires no labels or radioisotopes.
Protein Discovery's lab has a staff of seven, led by Jeremy Norris, Ph.D. Mravca says Norris worked with Vanderbilt University professor Richard Caprioli, when Caprioli pioneered MALDI mass spec tissue imaging.
Several top 10 pharma companies are Protein Discovery customers, says CEO Chuck Witkowski, and some make repeat orders for "really extended projects." Larger projects, which can cost over $25,000, and By-the-Slice complement each other, he says. "The imaging really fits in nicely for us because we find the absolute key to obtaining high-quality reproducible images is how the sample prep is done." By-the-Slice requires only that customers prepare tissue by making one cut to indicate the plane to be analyzed, freezing, and packing with ice. Results take about two weeks.
Since MALDI mass spec tissue imaging is new, "we're still educating the market on the unique benefits of imaging mass spec and, like any adoption curve, we expect that over the next year to two years it's really going to start being adopted more and more by industry," says Witkowski. Protein Discovery plans to introduce By-the-Slice for customers outside the U.S. and expand the program to include small molecules during 2007.
About 50 percent of Protein Discovery's current tissue imaging business looks at drug distribution, and Witkowski expects the technology will be used for investigating tissue-specific biomarker discovery and metabolic pathways. On the diagnostic side, he sees applications in pathology.
Although Protein Discovery's clients come primarily from big pharma and large biotech companies, Mravca also sees academic and government researchers as prospective clients, particularly for By-the-Slice. She says Protein Discovery has been building its clientele through a new Web site and keeping customers informed through its "Sample Prep" electronic newsletter with scientific news and information. Protein Discovery's product line includes a reagent for solubilizing membrane proteins before mass spec analysis, plus a MALDIplex sample prep station for serum, currently available in a limited number of pre-production units; commercial launch is expected in late 2007, says Mravca, with an expected cost of roughly $50,000. The company also sells a cleavable surfactant, invented by Norris, that does not interfere with mass spec.