About Mass Spec: Why Mass Spectrometry is Being Adopted by Clinical Laboratories
What is a Mass Spectrometer?
A mass spectrometer (MS) system enables the detection of an ionized target molecule, the analyte, as well as the measurement of its mass. A tandem mass spectrometer (MS/MS) system further allows the measurement of the characteristic fragment ions of the analyte, and the relative abundance of these fragment ions, thereby providing increased specificity.
Due to its inherent sensitivity and selectivity, liquid chromatography with triple quadrupole tandem mass spectral detection (LC-MS/MS) is often considered a “gold standard” method for quantifying compounds in complex biological matrices such as plasma, serum, urine and oral fluid.
Adoption of LC-MS/MS in the Clinical Laboratory
Initial adoption of LC-MS/MS into the routine clinical laboratory was limited because of its cost, complexity, and instrument footprint. However, technological advances have resulted in affordable benchtop instruments, and developments in software tools have made these systems user-friendly for even novice users. As a result, clinical diagnostic laboratories are increasingly adopting LC-MS/MS to provide rapid, accurate, and reliable test results.
Benefits of LC-MS/MS
LC-MS/MS offers myriad compelling benefits that make this technology appealing for clinical diagnostic laboratories:
In contrast with older technologies, mass spectrometry provides highly selective analysis and is free from cross-reactivity, resulting in more accurate measurements and thereby enabling clinicians to improve the quality of patient care.
LC-MS/MS is highly sensitive, enabling measurements of analytes at pg/mL concentration levels in biological fluids.
Multiple compounds may be measured simultaneously, enabling increased laboratory efficiency and faster sample turnaround times. Dozens, or even hundreds, of compounds may be measured in a single analysis!
Sample preparation may be as simple as direct injection, dilution, or protein precipitation, and derivatization is seldom required.
Due to the versatility and flexibility of the technique, new compounds can be rapidly added to existing methods.
Tandem mass spectrometry measurements may be applied to a wide variety of biological samples, including plasma, serum, urine, and oral fluid.
Recent advances in the automation of sample preparation have the potential to further improve laboratory efficiency, and to minimize costly errors.
What Does the Future Hold?
Many clinical laboratories have already adopted LC-MS/MS technology to take advantage of the accuracy, sensitivity, and flexibility of this technique. Ultimately this exciting technology delivers more accurate data to the clinician than traditional technologies, allowing the clinician to make better decisions leading to improved quality of patient care and patient outcomes.
As systems become more automated, and better integrated with existing laboratory workflows, expect that mass spectrometry will become a key component of modern clinical laboratory diagnostics.