Analytical Chemistry (prof. dr. M.W.F. Nielen)

The special Chair on Analytical Chemistry with special emphasis on the detection of chemical food contaminants has been established in 2007 within the Laboratory of Organic Chemistry. Focus of the Chair is on research in bioactivity-related detection and mass spectrometric identification of chemical contaminants in the food chain, ultimately leading to the identification of emerging unknown bioactive contaminants. Within this scope, innovations in ambient ionization mass spectrometry, biosensing, toxicology and microfluidics are being integrated.

Four highly exciting interrelated research themes are being studied in 2017:

1. Multiplex screening using planar arrays of color-encoded microspheres

Classical biorecognition based screening assays, such as ELISAs, measure only one type of biointeraction at a time. Suspension or planar arrays based on color-encoded microspheres allow parallel detection of multiple binding assays in a single well. This topic is being explored for multi-detection of mycotoxins in craft beers (PhD student Jeroen Peters). Alternatively, biorecognition can be exploited as a bioaffinity sample preparation tool, prior to mass spectrometric detection, as for example in the rbST screening and confirmatory analysis challenge (PhD student Nathalie Smits).

2. Next generation ambient Mass Spectrometry Imaging (ambient MSI).

An NWO-project having the acronym PolyImage was granted, aiming for the development of the next generation Laser Ablation Electrospray Ionization (LAESI) ambient MSI equipment. In this collaborative project, the group of Prof. Ron Heeren (M4I/Maastricht University) focuses on hardware improvement, while we are exploring the options for chemical modifications during the ionization of the ablated plume, aiming for sensitivity and selectivity enhancements. Model systems are polymer surfaces, synthetic fibers, natural products and bioaffinity surfaces (PhD student Fred van Geenen).

3. Mass spectrometry to detect the functional dynamics of gut-on-a-chip systems.

In another NWO project, acronym GUTTEST, sensitive and selective mass spectrometry detection platforms are being designed for the on-line coupling to compartmentalized microfluidic gastrointestinal chips. This will result in an orthogonal total analysis system in which the functional dynamics of cells and tissues can be studied, ultimately replacing classical animal trials (PhD student Milou Santbergen).

4. Smartphone-based food quality and safety testing.

The Marie Curie Innovative Training Network FoodSmartphone [] proposes the development of smartphone-based (bio)analytical sensing and diagnostic tools, for simplified on-site pre-screening of quality and safety parameters and wireless data transfer to servers of relevant stakeholders. The consortium has been built upon highly complementary disciplines: (bio)analytical chemists, biologists, physicists, micro/nano-engineers, mathematicians, organic- and food chemists will work together on the joint supra-disciplinary goal. The scientific training in novel smartphone-based sensing technologies will have a major impact on future EU monitoring practices and, moreover, pave the road for Citizen Science. One of the projects will develop multiplex smartphone assays for allergen detection (PhD student Gina Ross). Another project will bridge the newly developed smartphone detectors with confirmatory analysis requirements via direct ionization mass spectrometry (PhD student Vincent O’Brien).