Breathing New Life into Diagnostics: Plasmion's SICRIT® Technology

Insights from IndustryJan Wolf Chief Technology OfficerPlasmion

In this interview, we speak with Jan-C. Wolf, the Chief Technology Officer of Plasmion, a pioneering company in chemical analysis. With a deep commitment to simplifying mass spectrometry, Jan shares insights into Plasmion's groundbreaking SICRIT® technology, its integration with existing instruments, and its transformative applications across various industries.

Join us as we explore how SICRIT is reshaping the landscape of chemical analysis and making significant strides in various fields, particularly medical diagnostics.

Please introduce yourself and describe your role at Plasmion. Please provide us with an overview of Plasmion, its core technologies, and the markets it serves.

My name is Jan Wolf. I am the CTO of Plasmion, a young and growing company specializing in simplifying chemical analysis. Our core technology is called SICRIT (Soft Ionization by Chemical Reaction in Transfer). While traditionally used in classical lab settings, SICRIT allows mass spectrometry to be utilized in industrial environments by enabling direct measurements without the need for sample preparation.

Could you start by explaining the SICRIT technology and its primary functions? How does it integrate with existing LC-MS instruments to facilitate direct MS analysis without sample preparation?

The SICRIT technology extends the inlet system of a mass spectrometer. The vacuum of the MS pulls the gas through the source, where it ionizes all the molecules drawn in. This process ensures highly efficient ionization, enabling us to measure a wide range of substances, from gas phase components to aroma compounds and even patients' breath.

SICRIT®: A new and unique miniaturized ion source technology #explanationvideo #massspectrometry

From a commercial perspective, what are the major benefits of adopting SICRIT technology? How does it compare in terms of cost-effectiveness and operational efficiency against traditional methods?

Besides advantages such as increased sensitivity, an enhanced range of accessible analytes, soft ionization, and integration with every LC-MS system on the market, versatility is one of SICRIT's most important benefits.

The ion source can be used in traditional laboratory workflows with chromatography as well as for direct medical measurements. Direct analysis of atopic dermatitis on a patient's skin or the analysis of metabolomics in exhaled breath is just two examples of how SICRIT can significantly simplify and make medical applications less invasive.

The major benefit of SICRIT from a commercial perspective is its cost savings. The source can be coupled to both GC and LC systems, allowing the lab to potentially forgo an entire MS unit if needed. Additionally, when changing the MS, the source can be easily adapted to the new system.

The direct approach without chromatography also helps save money on consumables, as they are not needed. Furthermore, it enables a dramatic increase in throughput and saves time. For example, while a chromatography run might take 20 minutes, a direct injection can be completed in just 2 minutes. 

More specifically, could you please discuss the application of SICRIT in the direct analysis of exhaled breath? How does the SICRIT system facilitate the discovery and analysis of biomarkers in breath? Can you share an example of how this technology has led to a significant finding?

The SICRIT Breath Analysis Module is designed for direct exhaled breath measurements and real-time monitoring. A disposable mouthpiece is attached to the breath inlet, which is connected to a heated sampling line and the easy “click-on” ion source adapter to the SICRIT.

With this module, we are able to provide non-invasive sample collection and conduct me­ta­bo­lic mo­ni­to­ring of the vo­la­ti­le com­pounds that are pre­sent in a person’s breath. 

This enables us to do both real-time ana­ly­sis of a person’s me­ta­bo­lism and iden­ti­fy po­ten­ti­al bio­mar­kers. In recent studies, we were able to show how two in­di­vi­du­als dif­ferentiate in their me­ta­bo­lo­mic pro­files, e.g., recognizing differences in their diet. Fur­ther­mo­re, the same ex­pe­ri­ment ap­pli­ed to the same in­di­vi­du­al showed ch­an­ges wi­thin the pro­fi­le that oc­cur over time.

Image Credit: Plasmion

Can the SICRIT Breath Analysis Module be integrated into all mass spectrometers? How does this flexibility impact its utility in different clinical settings?

In a clinical setting, the SICRIT source can be used in combination with a high-resolution MS for biomarker discovery. Once the biomarkers are identified, the same source can be used on-site at a doctor's office or a point-of-care facility with a much smaller and cheaper single or triple quadrupole MS to monitor the respective biomarkers in a patient's breath.

The technology allows for the creation of unique metabolomic profiles. What insights can these profiles provide to healthcare professionals, and how do they enhance patient care?

Our current studies have shown that SICRIT can provide extensive information about individuals' metabolic profiles. You can observe a wide range of molecules, from amino acid profiles to oxidative stress and inflammation markers.

This vast array of molecules gives doctors insights into multiple metabolic pathways. Of course, significant statistical analysis is required to validate these biomarkers, but because SICRIT can access thousands of biomarkers in just a 10-second analysis, it offers a significant advantage over traditional blood analysis.

While blood analysis is currently routine and well-established, breath analysis can provide much deeper insights into metabolic pathways. This is because breath is in direct exchange with the blood and allows for real-time monitoring of the patient.

Additionally, SICRIT enables monitoring of dynamic processes and kinetic studies, such as how pharmaceuticals are metabolized in the human body, whether the dosage was correct, or if anesthesia levels were appropriate. This allows for real-time insights into the human body's status.​​​​​​

What challenges were faced in developing the SICRIT technology for breath analysis, and how have you addressed these challenges?

One of the biggest challenges in breath analysis has been standardizing the exhalation maneuver. First, using a disposable mouthpiece to quickly switch between patients and ensure that each patient provides a reproducible breath sample is crucial.

Additionally, we needed to develop a method to standardize the exhalation process. This involved hardware integration with specific valve settings in the SICRIT breath sampling device to ensure comparable results between patients and provide reliable and robust quantification across different individuals. 

Looking beyond clinical diagnostics, what are the potential applications of the SICRIT technology in other fields, such as environmental monitoring or food safety?

Due to its unique principles, SICRIT has significant potential beyond clinical diagnostics. It can be used for environmental monitoring and food safety. It is already used at certain customer sites to ensure the quality of goods and production processes and to analyze various foods and beverages' aroma components and flavors.

What future developments can we expect from Plasmion in enhancing the SICRIT technology? How do you envision this technology continuing to evolve and impacting various sectors in the coming years?

Our overall goal is to simplify mass spectrometry and make it accessible to anyone – trained in mass spec or not. We are constantly working on easy-to-handle plug-and-play products combined with easy-to-operate software. Both is combined in our new HaVoc Sensory System.

It features the SICRIT ionization technology and makes it operational in an industrial environment for increasing product quality and safety. ​

Where can readers find more information?

About Dr. Jan-C. Wolf, CTO of Plasmion

Jan holds a master’s de­gree in che­mis­try from the Tech­ni­cal Uni­ver­si­ty of Mu­nich. He spe­cia­li­zed in or­ga­nic and ana­ly­ti­cal che­mis­try and took a doc­to­ral de­gree (Ph.D.) at the De­part­ment of Ana­ly­ti­cal Che­mis­try hea­ded by Pro­fes­sor Rein­hard Niess­ner. 

Du­ring this time he gai­ned ex­ten­si­ve know­ledge in ae­ro­sol che­mis­try, in­stru­ment / me­thod de­ve­lo­p­ment, and the area of​ clas­si­cal ana­ly­sis, par­ti­cu­lar­ly in mass spec­tro­me­try. Bes­i­des, he in­de­pendent­ly con­duc­ted com­mis­sio­ned ana­ly­ses for va­rious in­dus­tri­al part­ners.

Af­ter gra­dua­ti­on, Jan con­duc­ted a post­doc­to­ral re­se­arch at ETH Zu­rich (Switz­er­land) with Pro­fes­sor Re­na­to Zen­o­bi and be­ca­me a lea­ding ex­pert in the field of new io­niza­ti­on me­thods for mass spec­tro­me­try, so-cal­led ''am­bi­ent'' io­niza­ti­on.

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