Cutting-edge instrument expected to foster novel scientific insights

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A new generation mass spectrometer—about the size of a very large bureau—has been installed in the laboratory of Vasilis Vasiliou, Ph.D., chair of the Department of Environmental Health Sciences and the Susan Dwight Bliss Professor of Epidemiology. The device is capable of identifying specific molecules within tissues, a crucial capability in identifying the connection between toxins in the environment and the onset of human disease. “This machine is the future of environmental health research,” Vasiliou said. “It allows us to see things that we never saw before.”

What is this instrument’s full name?

VV: It’s a long one. Waters SYNAPT G2-Si HDMS QToF with MALDI and DESI sources for tissue imaging mass spectrometry

Is it fully up and running?

VV: It’s ready to go. 

In general terms, what does this machine do?

This machine is the future of environmental health research.

Vasilis Vasiliou

VV: Using laser irradiation, this instrument allows molecules in fresh-frozen or formalin-fixed tissue sections to be identified and localized in the tissue without the need to utilize molecule-specific reagents, such as antibodies. The IMS approach that is employed is revolutionary because it permits unbiased identification of cellular molecules and their cellular source in a tissue. This is something that could not be done even a few years ago.

How can (or is) this being used to advance public health?

VV: Environmental and genetic changes alter tissue function, thereby causing potentially harmful changes to human health. Such changes are caused by alterations in cellular proteins and metabolites. Imaging mass spectrometry can provide spatial information about thousands of metabolites and proteins within a tissue. By allowing the molecular changes in a tissue to be accurately studied and localized to cellular populations with the tissue, IMS enhances our ability to understand the mechanisms underlying pathological changes caused by environmental exposures or disease. Such information is critical to predicting and treating disease and promoting human health.

What projects or project are you currently working on with this instrument?

VV: We are currently working on identification of the molecular mechanisms underlying alcoholic liver disease, non-alcoholic steatohepatitis and hepatocellular carcinoma. We are also investigating the distribution of drugs delivered by novel nanoparticle formulations to treat glioblastoma. This instrument could provide novel insights that will allow advances in these and other important public health areas. 

Is this device unique to Yale?

VV: This instrument with tissue imaging capability, is in my laboratory at the Department of Environmental Health Sciences and is the only one at Yale.

This article was submitted by Elisabeth Reitman on December 11, 2018.