Mass spectrometry dates back to over a hundred years ago, when it was first used in physics and chemistry labs. It was not until some 50 years later that its use was applied to biology. As new ionization techniques continue to evolve, we are now seeing this technology take on a completely different use. Over the last decade, particularly with the Human Genome Project in 2003, mass spectrometer diagnostics has emerged as a focal point of research.
In a recent study, Adamko et al.1 reviewed mass-spectrometer diagnostics against nuclear magnetic resonance and the electronic nose.
Asthma is the most common chronic illness found in children.2 Asthma is also life threatening because of its effect on the airways. Diagnosis of asthma relies on an assessment of airway inflammation, the main underlying cause of the symptoms produced by the disease.3 Physicians rely on physiological and functional tests, including spirometry, peak flow, and patient symptoms. As a result, diagnosis can be difficult to confirm without a clear, objective marker of asthma. The most promising study was one involving a urinalysis for metabolites specific to asthma. Wedes et al.4 were able to correlate eosinophil activity with asthma control and potential asthma exacerbation by measuring urine bromotyrosine. Bromotyrosine can be produced as a result of eosinophil peroxidase activity. The authors were able to show that high levels of bromotyrosine predicted a 4-fold higher risk of an asthma exacerbation. Bromotyrosine, if validated, is a potential target for mass spectrometer diagnostics in asthma.
More work is still required in this area to fully test mass spectrometer diagnostics as a tool in asthma management, particularly with regards to biomarker specificity. However, this is a prime example of the future of mass spectrometer diagnostics and its potential.
1. Adamko, D.J., Sykes, B.D., and Rowe, B.H. (2012) ‘The metabolics of asthma’, Chest, 141 (5), (pp. 1295-1302)
2. American Lung Association, Epidemiology and Statistics Unit, Research and Program Services Division. (2011) Trends in asthma morbidity and mortality. http://www.lung.org/finding-cures/our-research/trend-reports/asthma-trend-report.pdf
3. Holgate, S.T. (2008) ‘Pathogenesis of asthma’, Clinical and Experimental Allergy, 38 (6), (pp. 872-897)
4. Wedes, S.H., et al. (2011) ‘Urinary bromotyrosine measures asthma control and predicts asthma exacerbations in children‘, Journal of Pediatrics, 159 ( 2 ), (pp. 248-255)