The Role of Bioanalytical Chemistry in Improving Health

Bioanalytical chemistry is the branch of analytical chemistry dedicated to the separation, detection, identification and quantification of biological molecules. It has many similarities to analytical chemistry, using familiar chromatography and mass spectroscopy techniques.


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However, since biomolecules have been specially designed to function in physiologic conditions, the changes in pH, temperature or ionic strength that arise during many conventional analyses can disrupt molecular interactions and cause structural changes to proteins and nucleic acids. Existing analytical techniques have thus been tailored to protect sensitive biomolecules and new techniques developed, some of which take advantage of the unique properties of biomolecules, such as immunoassay.

The technical program at Pittcon will include many sessions that explore the latest developments in bioanalytical chemistry, and how these impact medical research and clinical practice. For example, it will describe the use of microchip electrophoresis in the study of neuroinflammatory conditions, and the role of microfluidic devices in the monitoring of depression.

There is a vast array of bioanalytical chemistry applications across many disciplines, from environmental management to quality control in the food industry to forensic investigation. A field that has seen a surge of advancement in and application of bioanalytical chemistry is medicine. This has been largely due to the development of biological therapies, and most recently the emergence of a novel coronavirus that rapidly developed into a global pandemic.

In addition, the recognition that individual tailoring of treatment strategies is key to improving patient outcomes has significantly increased the demand for rapid and sensitive techniques for molecular disease characterization. This is illustrated in oncology, where the identification of biomarkers and genetic phenotyping has enabled the prediction of the treatment that will be most effective against a particular tumor.

Bioanalytical chemistry has also been pivotal in furthering our understanding of disease mechanisms, which in turn informs the development of novel therapies. Most recently, this has been exemplified in neuroscience research where new bioanalytical techniques have enabled researchers to obtain information regarding neuron function and neurotransmitter release that was previously unimaginable. For example, biosensors and microdialysis probes have made it possible to measure the movement of neurotransmitters across nerve synapses, so changes in various disease states can be quantified.

Alzheimer’s disease has been the focus of much recent ground-breaking research. The need for a treatment for this devastating and progressive neurodegenerative disease has remained unmet for decades. However, recent discoveries using the latest bioanalytical technologies have raised hopes that early diagnosis and effective treatment may become reality. Oxidative stress and inflammation are known to play a key role in the etiology of Alzheimer’s disease. Microchip electrophoresis now provides a powerful tool for the detection of biomarkers in biological samples. It enables the separation of multiple analytes in a single run so several biomarkers can be detected in a single sample with high temporal resolution. In this way oxidative stress and inflammation can be readily monitored in vivo. Furthermore, used in combination with microdialysis, it enables real-time continuous in vivo monitoring of biomarkers of inflammation.

The development of fast-scan cyclic voltammetry (FSCAV) has made it possible to detect changes in endogenous neurotransmitter levels rapidly enough to distinguish between release and uptake events in brain tissue. The technique has been effectively utilized to accurately monitor in vivo serotonin dynamics in depression. Similarly, lab-on-a-chip technology that enables co-culture and communication between live tissue slices has been used to study the role of the gut-brain-immune axis on depression by evaluating the role of the gut in modulating serotonin levels in the brain.

In addition to exploring disease processes, bioanalytical techniques can facilitate disease control. This was recently exemplified during the COVID-19 global pandemic. With virus transmission escalating, it was apparent that screening to identify and isolate infected individuals was key to containing the infection.

Bioanalytical scientists quickly rose to the challenge, developing tests for COVID-19 from nose and throat swab samples. The introduction of the tests, however, revealed limitations in available bioanalytical procedures. Low levels of virus particles were not always detected, and results were not consistent between different sample types. Moreover, results could not be provided quickly enough using polymerase chain reaction (PCR) to detect viral RNA as the samples had to be transported to the laboratory for analysis, where resources were limited.

This was addressed by the development of a portable rapid antigen immunoassay analysis using microfluidic and lab-on-a-chip technologies to facilitate more widespread testing. In addition, new diagnostic tools have been developed for predicting disease severity and therapeutic response in patients infected with COVID-19. This latest research will provide invaluable information for optimizing the use of healthcare resources whilst maintaining a high level of patient care.

All these topics, and more, will be discussed in more detail during Pittcon. Pittcon provides unparalleled insight into the latest developments in bioanalytical techniques and the vast array of potential applications. At a time of travel restrictions and social distancing, Pittcon online provides a more-valuable-than-ever opportunity to keep up to date with the latest research. Visit the Pittcon  guide to explore the 2,000 technical sessions led by experts in their field that will be taking place.

About Pittcon

Pittcon® is a registered trademark of The Pittsburgh Conference on Analytical Chemistry and Applied Spectroscopy, a Pennsylvania non-profit organization. Co-sponsored by the Spectroscopy Society of Pittsburgh and the Society for Analytical Chemists of Pittsburgh, Pittcon is the premier annual conference and exposition on laboratory science.

Proceeds from Pittcon fund science education and outreach at all levels, kindergarten through adult. Pittcon donates more than a million dollars a year to provide financial and administrative support for various science outreach activities including science equipment grants, research grants, scholarships and internships for students, awards to teachers and professors, and grants to public science centers, libraries and museums.

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Last updated: Feb 1, 2024 at 7:16 AM


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