Pharmaceutical research could be quicker and more precise, thanks to an innovative breakthrough in the analytical sciences from the University of Warwick.
Professor Peter O’Connor and Dr Maria van Agthoven in the Department of Chemistry have invented a device which makes 2D mass spectrometry – an effective process for analysing and sequencing proteins – widely accessible for the first time ever.
This could lead to a revolution in the pharmaceutical and biomedical communities, enabling researchers and companies to produce data-driven results on how protein molecules function, more easily and cheaply.
2D mass spectrometry allows chemists to explore the elemental composition and structure of a molecule by breaking it apart, and analysing its fragmented pieces – measuring mass, and gathering data on how the whole molecule functions and interacts with its environment.
High numbers of molecules can be experimented on at the same time in this way, as the various fragments of different broken molecules can be modulated at the same frequencies as the molecule from which they originated.
Professor O’Connor and Dr van Agthoven have patented an instrument with which 2D Mass spectrometry can be performed using a linear ion trap – this is a cheaper, smaller, and much more accessible option than was previously available.
The device can be added onto existing MS instruments as well as being bought with new instruments.
The process is currently undertaken using large, expensive machinery, which makes it a relatively exclusive scientific activity. However, the new invention is opening up the technique to a much wider market.
Mass spectrometry produces precise results during protein sequencing, and this type of data-driven biology will produce quicker, better results than are currently obtained in pharmaceutical and biomedical research.
Dr van Agthoven comments that the breakthrough could have numerous and varied applications:
“Two-dimensional mass spectrometry has the potential to exponentially increase our knowledge in all areas, from biochemistry to food safety and environmental chemistry.”
Professor O’Connor is confident that this invention will change biomedical research dramatically:
“2-Dimensional mass spectrometry in a simple and cheap linear ion trap will revolutionise proteomics and detailed characterisation of complex samples.”
Emeritus Professor Wanda Lewis in the School of Engineering has taken a design process called ‘form-finding’, inspired by the natural world, to another level.
Form-finding enables the design of rigid structures that follow a strong natural form – structures that are sustained by a force of pure compression or tension, with no bending stresses, which are the main points of weakness in other structures. For 25 years Professor Lewis has been studying forms and shapes in nature: the outlines of a tree or a leaf, the curve of a shell, the way a film of soap can suspend itself between chosen boundaries.
The University of Warwick (informally known as Warwick University or Warwick) is a public research university in Coventry, England.
It was founded in 1965 as part of a government initiative to expand access to higher education. Warwick Business School was established in 1967 and Warwick Medical School was opened in 2000. Warwick merged with Coventry College of Education in 1979 and Horticulture Research International in 2004.
Warwick consistently ranks in the top ten of all major rankings of British universities and is the only multi-faculty institution aside from the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge to have never been ranked outside of the top ten. It is the best university under 50 years of age in Europe, and the third best under 50 years old in the world. It is the most targeted university in the UK by top employers according to a High Fliers Research Study, and was ranked by QS as the world’s 9th best university based on employer reputation. It was ranked 7th in the UK amongst multi-faculty institutions for the quality of its research in the 2008 Research Assessment Exercise. Entrance is highly competitive, with around 8.25 applicants per place for undergraduate study.
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Doubling the amount of fat removed
Nanodiamonds, pieces of carbon less than ten-thousandths the diameter of a human hair, have been found to help loosen crystallized fat from surfaces in a project led by research chemists at the University of Warwick that transforms the ability of washing powders to shift dirt in eco friendly low temperature laundry cycles.
These new findings tackle a problem that forces consumers to wash some of their laundry at between 60 and 90 degrees centigrade more than 80 times a year.
Even with modern biological washing powders, some fats and dirt cannot be removed at the lower temperatures many prefer to use for their weekly wash.
A desire to reduce the significant energy burden of regular high temperature washes, and understand the behaviour of these new materials, brought University of Warwick scientists and colleagues at Aston University together in a project funded by the UK Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and P&G plc.
This “Cold Water Cleaning Initiative” funded a group of chemists, physicists and engineers led by Dr Andrew Marsh in the University of Warwick’s Department of Chemistry to explore how new forms of carbon might work together with detergents in everyday household products.
Dr Andrew Marsh said: “We found that the 5 nanometre diamonds changed the way detergents behaved at 25 degrees centigrade, doubling the amount of fat removed when using one particular commercial detergent molecule.
“Even at temperatures as low as 15 degrees centigrade, otherwise hard-to-remove fat could be solubilised from a test surface.