Normalizing Mass Spectrometry

Toward Personalized Medicine: A Better Way to Normalize Mass Spectrometry Data

One of the main barriers to personalized healthcare is the cost. Because people are at risk of illness and disease from so many factors genetics, diet, lifestyle choices and behaviors, environmental toxins the expense of testing at an individual level is often prohibitive. If you want to truly get to personalized medicine that can be used predictively, you need an approach that captures thousands of pieces of information in a cost-effective way, says biochemist Dean Jones, PhD, an Emory professor of medicine in the division of pulmonology.

The technology already exists: high-resolution mass spectrometry has the ability to analyze thousands of chemicals from a single drop of blood in 10 minutes. Due to the short run time, a large number of samples can be processed per day. This analysis provides a wealth of potential diagnostic information through metabolomics, the study of the unique traces that specific cellular processes leave behind in each of us.

Dean Jones, PhD
Dean Jones, PhD

The predictive power of metabolomics through mass spectrometry cannot be fully applied, however, until such data can be reliably and quantitatively compared. Thats where Jones comes in. He has developed a normalization method that supports such comparisons.

The current normalization procedure requires mixing plasma from multiple healthy individuals to create a reference sample against which to compare an individuals results. So its very difficult to compare analyses from day to day, week to week, year to year, and facility to facility, Jones says. Currently, no universal normalization protocol has been accepted.

Joness procedure uses a National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) reference sample and a series of internal chemical standards to create a continuous reference. This would allow any individual sample collected in any facility at any time to be compared with a common database of the approximately 4,000 chemicals currently detected in human blood. We could compare individual samples to this database, deliverable at about $100 per sample, or about 2.5 cents per chemical measured, he says.

Emory's Office of Technology Transfer Director of Licensing Cale Lennon says the rapid and high-throughput screening capabilities of metabolomics could revolutionize the field of clinical diagnostics. Dr. Jones and his research team are developing important technology that would make these techniques practical for everyday use in medicine, he says.

Jones, who is the director of the Emory Clinical Biomarkers Laboratory, which is focused on oxidative stress biomarkers and applications of mass spectrometry, is also excited about the chance to determine the impact of nutritional and environmental factors on human health and disease through metabolomics.

This would include environmental chemicals like plastics and flame-retardants. It would include persistent organic pollutants. It would include DDT and chemicals that have been banned for thirty years. It would include the chemicals that define aging, he says. Something like this will be transformative, and will enable a longer period of ones life to be disease free.

Read our technology brief

Techid: 09116