ATLANTA (June 7, 2005) — The sequencing of the human genome was only the beginning
of a much more complex task – deciphering the secrets of cellular chemistry
and the mechanisms of disease. While the genome serves as a blueprint to understanding
the body, proteins represent the materials that carry out these plans.
are about 2 million distinct proteins in the
human body. That's a lot of proteins – and the future
of personalized medicine depends on a better understanding
of proteins, including their structure and interactions
with drugs and medical devices.
Researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology have developed a device
that has the potential to significantly reduce the time needed to analyze these
important proteins, shortening development time for new drugs and bringing
down the overall cost of protein analysis technology. According to findings
published in Applied Physics Letters, the device can potentially analyze proteins
much faster, more gently and at a lower cost.
“The device has the potential to completely change the landscape of this field,” said
Andrei Fedorov, an associate professor in the Woodruff School of Mechanical Engineering
at Georgia Tech who leads the project. Fedorov's collaborators on the project
include Professor F.L. Degertekin from the Woodruff School of Mechanical Engineering
and Professor F.M. Fernandez from the School of Chemistry and Biochemistry.
The device is a critical component of a mass spectrometer, an instrument that
can detect proteins present even in ultra-small concentrations by measuring
the relative masses of ionized atoms and molecules. Mass spectrometers can
provide a complete protein profile and essentially make proteomics, the study
of how proteins are produced and interact within an organ, cell or tissue,
“You need to be able to take a blood sample, pass it through a system and figure
out the complete protein profile of the human plasma. It's an extremely technology-intensive
process and you need to have a technology to do this kind of testing quickly
and inexpensively,” Fedorov said.
But before the mass spectrometer can analyze a sample, molecules must first
be converted to gas-phase charged ions through electrospray ionization (ESI),
a process that produces ions by evaporating charged droplets obtained through
spraying or bubbling.
Georgia Tech's AMUSE (Array of Micromachined Ultra Sonic Electrospray) technology
has several key advantages over currently available electrospray methods. In
AMUSE, the sample aerosolization and protein charging processes are separated,
giving AMUSE the unique ability to operate at low voltages with a wide range
of solvents. In addition, AMUSE is a nanoscale ion source and drastically lowers
the required sample size by improving sample use.
Also important, AMUSE is a “high-throughput” microarray device, meaning that
it can analyze many more samples at a time than a conventional electrospray
This innovation will be particularly useful for the pharmaceutical industry.
Drugs target certain proteins to achieve their designed effect on the body.
The pharmaceutical industry must test large numbers compounds on even larger
numbers of proteins to determine what effect a substance has on the body and
whether or not it is safe. With AMUSE, the time-consuming process could be
streamlined considerably, which could significantly shorten drug development
In addition to its ability to handle a much higher number of samples, AMUSE
can also be manufactured more cheaply than current ESI devices. Conventional
electrospray devices in mass spectrometers generally cost around $150 a piece
and must be cleaned after each sample is analyzed. AMUSE could be made disposable
and mass produced at a few dollars a piece, making Georgia Tech's device a
key step toward more affordable mass spectrometers for clinical applications.
For example, to determine whether a patient has cancer, a small blood sample
is typically frozen and sent out to a testing lab at another facility. This
freezing process and trip to the lab have a significant impact, damaging the
proteins and possibly giving an incomplete analysis. In the future, with a
powerful and portable mass spectrometer, it may be possible for a doctor to
take a sample directly from the patient, place it in the device and receive
an analysis on the spot.
Georgia Institute of Technology is one of the nation's
premiere research universities. Ranked among U.S.
News & World Report 's top 10 public universities,
Georgia Tech educates more than 16,000 students every
year through its Colleges of Architecture, Computing,
Engineering, Liberal Arts, Management and Sciences.
Tech maintains a diverse campus and is among the
nation's top producers of women and African-American
engineers. The Institute offers research opportunities
to both undergraduate and graduate students and is
home to more than 100 interdisciplinary units plus
the Georgia Tech Research Institute. During the 2003-2004
academic year, Georgia Tech reached $341.9 million
in new research award funding.