On Demand microPAD Mass Spectrometry

Lead Research Organisation: University of Liverpool
Department Name: Electrical Engineering and Electronics


In order to realise the full potential of Mass Spectrometry (MS), conventional approaches require extensive, expensive and careful sampling and associated preparation. For clinical samples, quantitative analysis usually requires extraction followed by 'hyphenated' separation (e.g., chromatography) and finally mass spectrometric detection. In the pursuit of highly sensitive, specific and precise quantitation, such analytical methods involve extensive sample preparation, resulting in increased cost and time of analysis. This proposal seeks a radical solution to how we perform such analyses. The outcomes of this work will lead to a new type of paper-based sensor for in-situ sample collection, separation, extraction and ionisation all achieved from a single paper substrate for coupling with MS. To that end, this new approach will be demonstrated for the analysis of steroid hormones of clinical significance.

Planned Impact

This research project seeks to develop functionalised paper devices that combine sampling, extraction, pre-concentration and ionisation all on a single paper-based platform for ambient mass spectrometric analysis. This will be demonstrated for rapid, sensitive and specific quantitation of steroid hormones direct from bodily fluids. We believe that there is real scope in the proposed research to achieve high impact. By combining the academic and clinical expertise of the PI/Co-I with the industrial capability and commercial prowess of our industrial partners, we are confident that the future commercialisation of our results will greatly benefit academia, business, individuals and society.

Given the potential of this research, we will initially target the healthcare sector providing rapid screening approaches in biomedical sciences and drug discovery as well as quantitative routine clinical diagnostics. With increasing pressure to reduce costs in the healthcare sector, the development of diagnostic techniques which can be operated by staff without specialist knowledge of the technique (e.g., nurses), coupled with the demand for rapid results (e.g. in intensive care), are key factors contributing to the increased use of point of care testing. The new paper devices from this project are expected to be at least comparable with conventional laboratory methods in terms of accuracy, sensitivity and specificity; however, it is anticipated that this approach will dramatically save time and reduce staff/consumable costs.

We will pursue commercialisation with our industrial partners and through the University commercialisation offices (Business Gateway) who will also identify other interested parties. The University of Liverpool has also recently launched a new research-to-business incubator named "Sensor City", which will provide a hub for small and medium sized companies to interact with university research in the area of sensor technologies (new facility opening in 2017). Given the aim of this proposal, the applicant will actively engage with Sensor City who have offered their full support for the duration of this research project (see LoS). Furthermore, interested parties identified through Business Gateway and Sensor City, will be invited to attend a workshop, organised by the applicant in the latter stages of the project, to disseminate the results and facilitate discussions.

The work carried out in this proposal will be presented at leading international conferences as well as prominent UK events, all of which are well represented by academia and industry. The work will be submitted to high impact journals (open access where possible). Given the broad nature of the work covering mass spectrometry, clinical diagnostics, and biosensors, a wide range of different groups will be addressed in these publications. A dedicated web page will be produced to explain the motivation and aims behind the work and to specifically disseminate related results of this research, along with links to recent abstracts and publications.


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Damon DE (2019) Determining Surface Energy of Porous Substrates by Spray Ionization. in Langmuir : the ACS journal of surfaces and colloids

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Suraritdechachai S (2019) Rapid Detection of the Antibiotic Sulfamethazine in Pig Body Fluids by Paper Spray Mass Spectrometry. in Journal of agricultural and food chemistry

Description The research has achieved technical feasibility for a new technique that utilises integrated, paper-based sampling and ionisation, for subsequent chemical analysis (via MS). This opens up future research avenues to engineer more sophisticated paper devices that can be used for simultaneous screening of larger biomarker panels.
Exploitation Route This could be taken up by clinicians enabling non-invasive testing and studies to be carried out.
Sectors Agriculture, Food and Drink,Chemicals,Environment,Healthcare,Manufacturing, including Industrial Biotechology,Pharmaceuticals and Medical Biotechnology

Description Studies are being developed with clinicians to assess potential patient impact and compare with current SoA. A large international agri-tech business has been assessing the potential of our approach, as they seek to reduce cost and time associated with in-house food quality & safety testing.
Sector Agriculture, Food and Drink,Healthcare
Impact Types Societal

Description School/College Visit 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact Presentation delivered at the University to 50+ school students from a variety of regional schools/colleges with demonstrations given.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018