Bioanalysis Zone

An author’s perspective: Germán Augusto Gómez-Ríos on shifting the paradigm of direct sample introduction to MS

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To help provide insight into the recent article published in Bioanalysis: Coated blade spray: shifting the paradigm of direct sample introduction to MS, we spoke with author Germán Augusto Gómez-Ríos, Postdoctoral Fellow and Project Manager at the Univeristy of Waterloo (ON, Canada). German explains why he felt this was an important area for bioanalysis and worthy of publication. With over 5 years of experience in bioanalysis, German has been passionate about the development of micro extraction-based tools that allow for rapid and accurate quantitation of drugs and/or metabolites present in biofluids such plasma, blood, urine and saliva since starting in this field.

Headshot“Currently, I am a Postdoctoral Fellow and Project Manager at Janusz Pawliszyn’s research group at the University of Waterloo (ON, Canada). I earned my BSc in Chemistry from the Industrial University of Santander (Bucaramanga, Colombia) and my MSc and PhD in Analytical Chemistry from the University of Waterloo. My PhD work was chiefly focused on the development of novel SPME devices that could be efficiently coupled to mass spectrometers without the need of a separation step, aimed at rapid analysis of target compounds in complex matrices of environmental, food, forensic, or clinical relevance. In addition, we have recently shown that some of these technologies can also be used for untargeted applications, such rapid molecular profiling.”

1. What inspired you to work in the field of bioanalysis?
I think inspiration almost always comes from great teachers. I can confidently say that the classes in mass spectrometry and forensic chemistry taught by my undergraduate advisor in Colombia, Elena Stashenko, greatly influenced my career path. While working at the National Institute for Forensic Sciences in Colombia after completing my undergraduate studies, I came to the realization that forensic laboratories needed simpler and faster tools for rapid and reliable analysis of drugs and other compounds of forensic interest in biofluids, which spurred my interest in these particular applications. Later, while earning my MSc at Janusz Pawliszyn’s group, I learned about the first applications of SPME devices in bioanalysis; however, most of the devices and applications developed in the past were not efficient enough to meet the current needs of the bioanalytical community (e.g., turnaround times). Hence, as part of my PhD thesis, I decided to explore the feasibility of directly coupling SPME to mass spectrometry for rapid and reliable analysis of targeted and untargeted analytes in biological matrices.

2. What impact would you like to see/expect to see as a result of your publication?
The first objective of this publication is to introduce CBS to those in the bioanalytical community who don’t know it yet. Particularly, we would like to call the attention of researchers working on determinations of small molecules in the forensic and clinical fields, and who are looking for alternative technologies that allow for rapid and robust analysis. Besides this, we would like to use this article to encourage existing users of direct-sample-to-MS technologies (e.g., those working on paper spray) to try CBS as a more elegant, alternative solution to the analysis of complex matrices.

3. What are the next steps for your research and this field of bioanalysis?
Our current course is directed towards finding solutions to the limitations scientists are faced with when trading chromatography for faster analysis times: limitations that are inherent of any direct-to-MS technology. For instance, we are looking at diverse on-coating derivatization technologies that aid in enhancing the limits of quantitation of poor ionizers and compounds with low mass-to-charge ratio (i.e. regions where you typically find more instrumental noise). We are also exploring diverse ion mobility technologies that facilitate rapid, on-line separation of target compounds from co-extracted isobars/isomers. Furthermore, we are working towards a fully automated 96-CBS system that enables total analysis times per sample of under 10s. In addition to our exploration of novel coating chemistries, we are working with one of our collaborators towards adaptation of CBS technology with portable mass spectrometer systems. Although most of our work has been focused on targeted analysis, our recent work revealed huge potential for implementation of CBS for rapid molecular profiling. Finally, we are currently carrying out work directed at the implementation of CBS in clinical applications for analysis of samples from patients undergoing a variety of procedures, such as those treated with immunosuppressive drugs.

Our main goal is to see coated blade spray being commercialized, allowing people around the globe to use it to solve some of their analytical challenges in small molecule detection. I believe this technology will soon be one of the fastest sample handling approaches created to date, and foresee its use for the determination of multiple compounds in on-site applications.

4. Are there any researchers/projects/technologies that you are watching at the moment, and any you think we should be keeping an eye on?
Although the list of scientists I typically follow in my google scholar profile is quite extensive, I always keep an interested eye on research led by Facundo Fernandez (Georgia Institute of Technology; GA, USA), Zoltan Takats (Imperial College London, UK), Graham Cooks (Purdue University; IN, USA), Renato Zenobi (ETH Zurich; Zurich, Switzerland) and Richard Smith (Pacific Northwest National Laboratory; WA, USA). I think the groups led by these scientists have made important innovations in eitherambient ionization technologies, portable mass spectrometry, ion mobility, or sample interfacing with mass spectrometry. These advances have facilitated the rapid analysis of complex biological matrices and, as a result, many of us have used these foundations to build our scientific developments.

Regarding technologies, I am always looking at novel mass spectrometry developments that could aid in the attainment of faster analysis times, lower limits of quantitation, better selectivity, or all of them. Particularly, I closely follow any progress in ion mobility instrumentation (e.g. SLIM, DMS, TWIMS, FAIMS), portable and transportable mass spectrometers (e.g. QDA by Waters Corporation or Ultivo by Agilent Technologies), laboratory automation (e.g. liquid handlers and sample preparation units like the Cascadion by Thermo Fisher Scientific Inc. and CLAM-2000 by Shimadzu) and novel sample preparation technologies (e.g. extraction chemistries, substrates and devices).

5. Do you have any advice for anyone who may be interested in working in this field?
Always ‘stand on the shoulders of giants’; basically, I recommend that anyone interested in this field applies themselves to learning and finding appreciation for all the work that has been done before, then utilize the significant knowledge accumulated to date to push forward, whether it is by improving already established work, or by exploring innovative ideas.

You should also keep yourself constantly updated on what other researchers and companies are working on; essentially, you don’t want to find yourself on a sub-field where your work won’t make an impact, neither practically nor fundamentally.

It is also important to hunt for new inspiration in fields completely different to Bioanalysis, which will aid in keeping you open-minded and potentially will allow you to contribute to further advances.

Finally, great partners equal great advances. Collaboration with companies and other researchers have allowed us to explore the wide capabilities of our techniques – capabilities we were unaware of – and have aided us in reaching goals that we considered far away. 

Reference: Gómez-Ríos GA, Tascon M and Pawliszyn J. Coated blade spray: shifting the paradigm of direct sample introduction to MS. Bioanalysis 10(4), 257-271 (2018)

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