Bioanalysis Zone

A perspective through time: the history of imaging mass spectrometry and its potential for improved clinical outcomes


danielleDanielle Gutierrez received her Ph.D. in Biomedical Sciences from the Department of Cell and Molecular Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics at the Medical University of South Carolina. Danielle is the Project and Communications Manager for the National Research Resource for Imaging Mass Spectrometry within the Mass Spectrometry Research Center at Vanderbilt University. In previous positions, Danielle served as an editor on the Fellows’ Editorial Board at the National Institutes of Health and as a freelance science writer for the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. Danielle has 10 years of research experience in chromatography and mass spectrometry.


In the early days of matrix-assisted laser desorption ionization (MALDI) imaging mass spectrometry (IMS), I was just starting graduate school and my training as a mass spectrometrist. Though the technology was new and emerging, I found it fascinating and powerful. In essence, MALDI IMS functions as a molecular microscope through which one can distinguish normal and cancerous tissues, lipid, metabolite, and drug distributions, and proteins involved in specific developmental stages – really any molecules of interest that are ionized and detected. Since that time, MALDI IMS has become an established, clinically and biologically relevant, state-of-the art analytical tool. To current users of the technology and to all who are interested, welcome to the new IMS column written by scientists at the National Research Resource for IMS (TN, USA), a Biomedical Technology Research Resource. This first installment reviews the history of IMS and the beginnings of the Resource. Future articles will include opinion pieces, tutorials, and reviews of clinical and biological applications.

History of IMS

IMS refers to the use of mass spectrometry for the acquisition of molecular distributions directly from target surfaces. IMS had its origin with secondary ion mass spectrometry (SIMS) over 50 years ago [1,2]. Today, IMS spans many instrument platforms and ionization techniques, including SIMS, MALDI, desorption electrospray ionization (DESI), laser ablation electrospray ionization (LAESI), as well as other technologies. Among these, MALDI IMS is the predominant technology with regard to clinical and biological applications, and so will it constitute the main focus of this column.

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1 Comment

  1. I am new to mass spectrometry, but I think it is an interesting field to follow. Like you mentioned its applications have been spreading out a lot lately. I can’t wait to see where it leads research!

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