KNOXVILLE, Tenn.– Protein Discovery Inc., introduced in mid-January a service that offers MALDImass spectrometry tissue imaging for a flat rate of $1,200 per sample.
Tissue Imaging By-the-Slice, which Protein Discoveryperforms in-house, expands the company's offerings to fit varied client needsand budgets. Andrea Mravca, vice president, sales and marketing, says tissueimaging is underutilized because of expense and difficulty. "Not only does itrequire costly and specialized equipment—that you may or may not need foranything else you set up—but it also takes skilled personnel, and this is anemerging field."
By-the-Slice service is an entry-level turnkey program thatlooks at a fixed number of pixels (8,000) and provides a standardized reportincluding raw data, an optical image of the slice, plus three ion densityprofile images. "We pick out three masses that we think look interesting thatare representative and we include those in the report," says Mravca.
"We send all the rawdata to the customer so they can interrogate the data how they want." For now,proteins and peptides, but not small molecules, are revealed underBy-the-Slice, though customers may contract with Protein Discovery for custom,comprehensive services. The imaging process preserves the spatial arrangementof tissue slices and requires no labels or radioisotopes.
Protein Discovery's lab has a staff of seven, led by JeremyNorris, Ph.D. Mravca says Norris worked with Vanderbilt University professor RichardCaprioli, when Caprioli pioneered MALDI mass spec tissue imaging.
Several top 10 pharma companies are Protein Discoverycustomers, says CEO Chuck Witkowski, and some make repeat orders for "reallyextended projects." Larger projects, which can cost over $25,000, andBy-the-Slice complement each other, he says. "The imaging really fits in nicelyfor us because we find the absolute key to obtaining high-quality reproducibleimages is how the sample prep is done." By-the-Slice requires only thatcustomers prepare tissue by making one cut to indicate the plane to beanalyzed, freezing, and packing with ice. Results take about two weeks.
Since MALDI mass spec tissue imaging is new, "we're stilleducating the market on the unique benefits of imaging mass spec and, like anyadoption curve, we expect that over the next year to two years it's reallygoing 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 tissueimaging business looks at drug distribution, and Witkowski expects thetechnology will be used for investigating tissue-specific biomarker discoveryand metabolic pathways. On the diagnostic side, he sees applications inpathology.
Although Protein Discovery's clients come primarily from bigpharma and large biotech companies, Mravca also sees academic and governmentresearchers as prospective clients, particularly for By-the-Slice. She saysProtein Discovery has been building its clientele through a new Web site andkeeping customers informed through its "Sample Prep" electronic newsletter withscientific news and information. Protein Discovery's product line includes a reagentfor solubilizing membrane proteins before mass spec analysis, plus a MALDIplexsample prep station for serum, currently available in a limited number ofpre-production units; commercial launch is expected in late 2007, says Mravca,with an expected cost of roughly $50,000. The company also sells a cleavablesurfactant, invented by Norris, that does not interfere with mass spec.