Mass spectrometry: How this important research tool is used in a clinical setting

by Anna Lodge

Figure 1: Ejection of particles from a sample surface after being blasted by primary ions.

How does mass spectrometry work?

MSI is used to visualise the spatial distribution of a substance in a sample. A mass spectrometer comprises 3 main parts: the ion source, the mass analyser, and the ion detector. All of these are essential in measuring the mass-to-charge ratio (m/z) of an ion. By selecting a peak corresponding to the m/z of an ion in a compound of interest, the compound’s distribution in a sample can be mapped, creating an image.

Figure 2: ToF-SIMS instrument (Ionoptika, UK).

How is MSI useful?

ToF-SIMS’s high sensitivity and spatial resolution with no need for labelling make it a valuable tool for biomedical imaging. Its application ranges from histological studies of tissue to measuring drug uptake in cells.

My research using mass spectrometry

My master’s research focused on improving quantitative analysis using ToF-SIMS to facilitate biomedical research. To this end, I imaged sections of mouse kidney tissue doped with paracetamol. The objective was to test the sensitivity of SIMS to paracetamol on a tissue matrix.

Figure 3: Secondary ion image of paracetamol deposited onto kidney tissue.

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