University of Warwick spin-out Verdel Instruments has raised seed funding of over £230,000 from Longwall Ventures and British public innovation agency Innovate UK to develop a new two-dimensional mass spectrometry (2DMS) technology.

Mass spectrometry technology is used in analytical laboratories to identify key components and impurities in biopharmaceuticals, as well as in food, chemical products and the environment.

These instruments rely on a process of chromatography before the spectrometry analysis actually begins, separating the molecules of the substances analysed so they can enter the mass spectrometer one by one. It will then measure each molecule’s mass, fragment the molecule and measure the masses of the fragments, from which the molecular structure can be deduced.

The problem with the mass spectrometry devices currently in use across the world is that they cannot analyse more than one component at a time, meaning a scientist must accept a loss of information about impurities or parts of the entire structure. They also require very long runtimes for accurate results, in the region of 90 – 180 minutes.

Using 2DMS, only a single 20-minute analysis is required, Verdel said. The new technique allows researchers to analyse multiple complex samples simultaneously, with all data produced in parallel.

To date, 2DMS has only been used in academia, where large, slow and expensive instruments have been modified to introduce the 2D capacity. Verdel is now working with industry to develop this new technology and make it available in commercial facilities.

Director of Verdel Instruments and University of Warwick professor of analytical chemistry Pete O’Connor said: “We have done analysis of small pharmaceutical and agrichemical molecules, sequenced multiple complex protein or peptides, complex polymer distributions, monoclonal antibodies, proteomics samples, and whole proteins, and are currently working to expand the capabilities into environmental testing, petroleum analysis, food safety, and clinical analysis.”

The technology works by employing electrical pulses to manipulate ions in a linear ion trap before fragmentation to enable parallel acquisition of mass spectra. This operates in combination with UV laser-based fragmentation and a fast mass analyser.

The company said the technology offers improved specificity, sensitivity and speed compared to traditional mass spectrometry techniques.