Microfluidics could see off chromatography columns

Related tags Chromatography Agilent technologies

Agilent Technologies has launched a microfluidics-based technology
for liquid chromatography/mass spectrometry (LC/MS)- widely used by
scientists in protein research and pharmaceutical applications to
separate and identify biological compounds - that could make
traditional LC columns obsolete.

At the heart of the new technology is a reusable polymer high-performance LC (HPLC) chip. Smaller than a credit card, the HPLC chip combines the sample enrichment and separation capability of a nanoflow LC system with the connections and spray tips used in electrospray mass spectrometry.

Chris van Ingen, president of Agilent's Life Sciences and Chemical Analysis group, said: "Our first HPLC chips will be for proteomics applications, but there are numerous applications for this technology in a wide range of markets. The design of this new device is so flexible that we can envision the incorporation of multidimensional separation and sample preparation onto single chips."

Agilent claims the technology eliminates 50 per cent of the traditional fittings and connections typically required in an LC/MS system, dramatically reducing the possibility of leaks and dead volumes and significantly improving ease of use, sensitivity, productivity and reliability during analysis.

The second component of the technology is the HPLC-chip/MS interface. An HPLC chip is inserted into the interface, which mounts on an Agilent spectrometer for mass analysis. Replacement of the chip is simple and can be completed in a few seconds as opposed to the minutes required to change LC columns, according to the company.

It may seem surprising that something the length of a chromatography column could be fitted into a chip, but Agilent says that they can be manufactured to incorporate internal columns up to 20cms long. It can use any available packing material used for chromatographic separations.

The chip is fabricated using a manufacturing process called laser ablation, which is similar to that used in the production of ink-jet printing cartridges. A laser creates the channels, columns and fluid access ports on the chip by etching the surface of a polymer film. The films are laminated together to form the internal three-dimensional structures and then trimmed with a laser to form the electrospray tip and the final shape of the chip.

Agilent​ said that the HPLC-Chip technology has potential uses across a range of applications including proteomics research, pharmaceutical development and manufacturing, combinatorial chemistry, compound analysis, food safety and environmental monitoring.

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