Role of Mass Spectrometry

Detailed analysis of body fluids is a common approach to the early diagnosis of disease, assessment of risk for disease, tracking the progression of disease over time, or monitoring a patient's response to treatment. Modern medicine is now on the threshold of a revolution in the chemical analysis of human tissue samples and fluids (including serum, urine, and cerebrospinal fluid) which is a result of developments in the field of proteomics during the past 5-10 years and more specifically in the technology of mass spectrometry. Mass spectrometry is a technique that was developed within the discipline of analytical chemistry beginning in the 1930’s. In its modern form, mass spectrometry is the method of choice for rapidly identifying and quantifying virtually any biologically relevant molecule from virtually any source. This is done by determining the mass of the molecule (molecular weight) and the mass of its characteristic molecular building blocks generated by precise and reproducible chemical 'fragmentation' of the molecule.

Mass spectrometry has several advantages over existing diagnostic methods for analyzing of body fluids, such as chromatography or immunoassays.

  1. Mass spectrometry is several orders of magnitude more sensitive, i.e., detects lower levels of biomolecules in complex mixtures.

  2. It simultaneously detects multiple biomolecules (both related and unrelated to each other) in the same sample, which provides more information about the underlying biological processes.

  3. It can unambiguously detect subtle changes in metabolic byproducts, proteins, nucleic acids and lipids as well as complexes among these different types of biological molecules with precision that is unmatched by existing technology (or any technology on the horizon).

Importantly, the potential of biological mass spectrometry for analysis of large numbers of patient samples with a combination of high reliability, high information content and rapid turnaround times has no competition for the foreseeable future.