How orbitrap helps VIB researchers expand the frontiers of science

11 July 2016
​Since its introduction in 2005, the Orbitrap mass spectrometer has quickly become a star in the research firmament. It has contributed to numerous significant breakthroughs in life sciences, especially in the fields of proteomics (the study of proteins and their functions) and metabolomics (the study of the intermediates and products of metabolism). First developed by the Russian physicist Alexander Makarov, a wide variety of Orbitrap mass spectrometers exist today, each with their own specifications. They all enable the quantification and profiling of small ionized particles using electrical fields. What makes Orbitrap such an important technology, and how does it help VIB researchers? We asked these questions to three researchers in separate VIB labs.

Stuart Maudsley 
Associate Department Director at the VIB Department of Molecular Genetics, University of Antwerp
“My laboratory purchased the Orbitrap Q Exactive Plus MS to investigate complex neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease and frontotemporal dementia (FTD). Our Q Exactive Plus platform allows us to rapidly identify complex patterns of protein expression alteration that are involved in these disorders. We also purchased a highly-specialized and ultra-sensitive Orbitrap Tribrid Fusion MS platform – the only one of its kind in Belgium. This machine allows us to investigate so-called ‘micro-proteomes’, which further refines our ability to identify the signaling factors that underpin the development of neurodegenerative diseases. We call these the ‘molecular signatures’ of the disease. My lab believes that by identifying these molecular signatures, we will be able to better design therapeutic interventions.”

Bart Ghesquiere
Expert Technologist at the VIB Vesalius Research Center, KU Leuven
“We use an Orbitrap (Thermo Scientific Q Exactive) for the analysis of metabolites, the intermediates or end products that result from a complex network of intracellular biochemical reactions. Our research center is specialized in the analysis of biochemical processes by tracking the passage of isotopes through a certain reaction or metabolic pathway. This gives researchers a deeper understanding of the exact biochemical reactions that are involved in diseases such as cancer, inflammation disorders and neurodegenerative diseases. Some cancer cells, for example, are capable of surviving various chemotherapies. The resistance of these cells is often caused by unique biochemical adaptations. Understanding and identifying these biochemical reactions – thanks to technologies likes Orbitrap – may help researchers develop improved treatment strategies or therapies.”

Francis Impens 
Expert Technologist at the VIB Medical Biotechnology Center, UGent
“Our lab uses the Orbitrap Q Exactive HF, one of the most powerful mass spectrometers for proteomics currently on the market. It allows us to identify thousands of proteins in a single run. Furthermore, the high resolution spectra allow the precise mapping of protein modifications. With demand for proteome analyses increasing both within the VIB scientific community and beyond, these features make the Q Exactive HF an ideal instrument to expand the MS capacity of the Proteomics Expertise Center (PEC). Thanks to a specific setup that was developed at the Max Planck Institute in Germany, we can also efficiently separate peptides in front of the mass spectrometer. This ultraperformant setup makes our Q Exactive HF instrument ideally suited for large-scale shotgun proteomics experiments, bringing the measurement of the near complete proteome of a cell or tissue within reach. With this new machine installed, PEC’s other mass spectrometers can be used more efficiently to measure samples that are less complex.”

Stuart Maudsley at Orbitrap Fusion Tribrid_Massaspectometer