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NPL and partners develop new protein imaging method

New protein imaging method paves ways for next generation biomaterials and tissue analysis

Scientists from NPL, the University of Birmingham and the University of Nottingham have established a new method to image proteins that could lead to new discoveries in disease through biological tissue and cell analysis and the development of new biomaterials that can be used for the next generation of drug delivery systems and medical devices.

Using the state-of-the-art 3D OrbiSIMS invented by Ian Gilmore in NiCE-MSI, and described in Passarelli et al Nature Methods 14, 1175, 2017, the first matrix- and label-free in situ assignment of intact proteins at surfaces with minimal sample preparation was demonstrated. This research has been published today in Nature Communications

Since the OrbiSIMS was launched at NPL in 2016, it has revolutionised label-free imaging of metabolites with sub-cellular resolution. There are now a growing number of these powerful instruments (Hybrid SIMS, IONTOF GmbH) around the world, providing ground-breaking insights in biology and advanced materials.

Alex Shard, NPL Fellow, states: “The ability to uniquely identify and image proteins without selectively tagging or labelling them has been a long-standing metrological goal in the biomedical sciences. This paper demonstrates that this is now possible and the approach can be applied to develop improved medical devices, sensors and in the 3D imaging of biological specimens. The novel 3D OrbiSIMS instrument reveals unprecedented insights into biological processes, as shown here and in NPL’s recent papers on metabolite and volatile molecule imaging using cryogenic OrbiSIMS. This is an early stage in the development of this revolutionary instrument and we expect more revelations in the near future.”

Dr David Scurr, the University of Nottingham’s School of Pharmacy, states: “The design and innovation of the next generation of biomaterials is underpinned by the ability to accurately characterise biological tissue and materials. The challenge for scientists in this area has been unpicking the chemical complexity of such systems. This approach to protein analysis has been demonstrated using extreme examples to illustrate its sensitivity and specificity by chemically mapping a protein monolayer (protein biochip) and distribution of specific protein in human skin (complex multi-layered biological system) respectively. With the ability to chemically map proteins in this way we are a step closer to being able to understand fundamental biological processes and develop more effective systems for targeting drugs and providing coatings for medical devices.”

19 Nov 2020