Date published 
July 2011

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Next-Generation Mass Spectrometry: Technology Advances and Applications - Overview

Part of the Insight Update Series

Report Brochure CoverAuthor: K. John Morrow, Jr., PhD 

Advances in biomedical instrumentation are enabling a new perspective that could not have been achieved even a decade ago. Mass spectrometry is the most significant and far reaching of these developments, allowing the generation of data in the medical sciences that brings new insights into critical questions. This report analyzes: 

  • Physical principles and analytical applications of mass spectrometry
  • The role of mass spectrometry in genomics, proteomics, metabolomics, and lipidomics
  • Advances in mass spectrometry instrumentation and methods
  • Current and emerging applications of mass spectrometry
  • Future prospects for the mass spectrometry industry 


Also included are interviews with mass spectrometry experts in the academic and private sectors
Mass spectrometry is a highly sophisticated instrumentation technology that has emerged as the premier method for the analytical definition of biomolecules. This newly defined role has been the result of significant improvements in these instruments, combined with the introduction of a number of new approaches to preparation and separation of the target molecules.

Next-Generation Mass Spectrometry: Technology Advances and Applications focuses on the role that mass spectrometry has played in the advance of biotechnology. In recent years, it has morphed from a costly and cumbersome machine, sequestered within the domain of analytical chemistry, to an amiable companion, accessible both financially and technically to laboratories that are not specialized in its many uses and applications. Given the limitations of large and complex instruments of the past, it is clear that the direction of evolution of these devices will be toward greater specialization with attendant simplification. This process is well underway, and in this report we examine some of the most imaginative directions in the engineering of new generations of mass spectrometers.

We briefly review the history of mass spectrometry and consider (in a non-mathematical framework) the underlying physical principles that dictate the construction and limitations of mass spectrometers. Today mass spectrometry is characterized by rapid advances in technology, driven by manufacturers’ engineering applications. It is acknowledged to be the third most powerful spectral technique in the structural elucidation of unknown organic compounds, trumped only by X-ray diffraction and NMR spectroscopy. But it offers the unsurpassed features of easy coupling to gas-phase and liquid-phase separation techniques, in addition to its extremely high sensitivity and low sample consumption.

In reviewing mass spectrometry instrumentation, Next-Generation Mass Spectrometry: Technology Advances and Applications considers hardware designed to move fragile molecules into a gaseous ionized state, where they can be subsequently analyzed. These include electrospray ionization, matrix-assisted laser desorption/ionization (MALDI), and surface-enhanced laser desorption/ionization (SELDI). Following the vaporization/ionization procedure, the sample is introduced into the mass analyzer, of which there are many types, as presented in this report. As evidenced by our discussion, analyzers are numerous and designed for a variety of applications. We review the more significant applications of mass spec technology, including within the areas of proteomics, genomics, metabolomics, lipidomics, forensics, environmental monitoring, and data analysis.

Finally, we draw conclusions about the industry’s future prospects. Mass spectrometry, as the leading technology for the characterization of macromolecules, is likely in the coming years to produce breakthrough advances in the diagnosis and understanding of a host of recalcitrant diseases.   

About the AuthorK. John Morrow, Jr., PhD is a writer and consultant for the biotechnology industry. He obtained his PhD in genetics from the University of Washington in Seattle, and completed his training with post-doctoral studies in Italy at the Universitá di Pavia and in Philadelphia at the Fox Chase Cancer Institute. He has held faculty positions at the University of Kansas and at Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center. His writings include over 200 peer-reviewed journal papers, non–peer-reviewed coverage of the biotechnology industry, books, and marketing reports. A number of companies, including Meridian Bioscience, Affitech, Henderson-Morley Biotechnology, Brandwidth Communications, and Emergent Technologies have taken advantage of his consultancy services, provided through Newport Biotechnology Consultants. He resides in Newport, KY.