The focus of the endowed professorship is on setting up the innovative Clinical Proteomics Krems technology platform, which is designed to establish cutting-edge proteomics technologies by means of high-resolution mass spectrometry. The technologies will be developed in the course of clinical studies for the purpose of patient-specific analysis. Following the establishment of the Krems Bioanalytics (IKB) research institute at the Ecoplus technology and research centre, the immunogenicity of biologicals and vaccines has become one of the IMC Krems’ core competences over recent years. Under the endowed professorship, technological expertise in this field of research will be significantly expanded, and the research focuses broadened to include biomarkers. One of the key instruments required for this expansion is one of the most powerful mass spectrometers currently available – the model which IMC Krems recently purchased.
Gold standard in mass spectrometry
The new Orbitrap Eclipse is currently the most advanced mass spectrometer used in protein analysis. It is tailor-made for research and development facilities as it supports flexible analysis of different molecules using a wide variety of methods, as well as supporting high-sensitivity and high-resolution mass spectrometry. “Besides its capacity to analyse a wide range of samples, the Orbitrap Eclipse platform enables the combination of various separation, fragmentation and mass determination techniques, which in turn will pave the way for implementation of custom analytical strategies for targeted studies. This technical flexibility coupled with a broad spectrum of possible analytes puts the Orbitrap Eclipse in a class of its own when it comes to research and development operations,” a delighted Franz Herzog commented.
Broad range of applications
The basic function of a mass spectrometer is measurement of the mass of charged particles (ions), ranging from small molecules such as active pharmaceutical agents and crude oil products, through to biomolecules such as proteins, lipids and nucleic acids and their components. “At IKB, we’ll begin by setting up a proteomics technology platform that will enable cutting-edge analysis of protein fragments, peptides – or bottom-up analysis – and intact proteins, which we call top-down,” Franz Herzog explained. Initially, the emphasis will be on examining protein interactions, with a view to precisely localising the binding site and estimating the binding affinity. “This is important in terms of antigen-antibody interaction for vaccine manufacturing or the formation of antibodies against biologicals, in order to assess the immunogenicity of a biological for the purpose of drug development,” Herzog added. Another aim behind the characterisation of protein modifications in patient samples is to enable the identification of novel biomarkers with potential clinical applications.
A second project will focus on deciphering the signal pathways in metabolic protein networks. The mass spectrometry method for analysing protein-protein binding sites will be applied in order to gain insights into how signal transmission changes in response to external stimuli, such as a change in nutrients, meaning that the cell in question can adapt. “Our collaboration with the Center of Molecular Medicine [CEMM] in Vienna has enabled us to use our technology to explain how a cell can adapt to differing nutrient supplies by means of changes in protein interactions,” said Franz Herzog, who is looking forward to carrying out high-level collaborative projects. Both research focuses are very important in medical terms and lie at the heart of many research projects in the pharmaceutical industry.
Strong research profile
In recent years, IMC University of Applied Sciences Krems has developed a new core competence. According to Franz Herzog: “Mass spectrometry is seen as a means of achieving a huge step forward in terms of our technological expertise in this research field, and also extending it in the areas of vaccines and biomarkers.” Scientific work on these topics opens up attractive opportunities for collaboration with biotech and pharmaceutical companies, as well as other academic institutions. For instance, such analytical methods are being used across the globe to help tackle the Covid-19 pandemic, particularly to gain insights into the interaction of the virus with the target tissue, and to characterise the activation of immune cells and antibody production during an infection.
Establishing the new Clinical Proteomics Krems technology platform will ensure comprehensive integration of teaching and research, as well as strengthening the research profile of the university and Krems as a biotechnology hub over the long-term. With the purchase of the mass spectrometer, IKB has joined the ranks of Austria’s most respected research institutes, which have high-end equipment like this at their disposal.
About Institute Krems Bioanalytics
IKB is a contract research institute based at IMC University of Applied Sciences Krems. Opened in 2014, it performs contract research for the pharmaceutical industry, biotech companies and academic institutes. The working groups at the facility have outstanding scientific expertise in the fields of immunology, haematology and oncology.
About Franz Herzog
Franz Herzog currently heads the biomedical mass spectrometry lab at IMC Krems’ Institute Krems Bioanalytics. He studied biotechnology at the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences in Vienna and completed his doctorate in molecular biology – his doctoral thesis examined the regulation of cell division – at the Research Institute of Molecular Pathology (IMP), also in the Austrian capital. In the course of his postdoctoral studies at ETH Zurich as a member of the team headed by Ruedi Aebersold, he developed a mass spectrometry method for the characterisation of protein networks. His research was published in the journal Science. In his role as team leader at LMU Munich’s Gene Center, he used the technology to explain macromolecular complexes that control cell division. He has been a researcher and lecturer at IMC Krems since 2021.