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Duquesne University, Agilent Technologies Establish Mass Spectrometry Center of Excellence to Study Diseases, Environmental Issues


PITTSBURGH and SANTA CLARA, Calif., Duquesne University and Agilent Technologies Inc. (NYSE: A) today announced that they have established a Center of Excellence (COE) for mass spectrometry at the university.

The facility enables a wide range of research in the life sciences and environmental analysis, including:

* metabolomics and trace lipid analysis, the effects of chronic exposure to heavy metals;
* how residues of some veterinary drugs affect the food chain;
* analysis of toxins in food;
* identifying biomarkers for autism;
* factors affecting the immune system;
* researching inherited “knock-out diseases” like Fabry’s disease; and
* an area of study called “environmental proteomics” (e.g. the protein profiles of organisms as they’re exposed to different environmental compounds).

“Researchers at Duquesne University are doing fascinating work aimed at solving important problems, and we’re very pleased to be part of the team,” said Gustavo Salem, Agilent vice president and general manager, Biological Systems Division.

The university received two National Science Foundation grants totaling nearly $1 million. The grants were used to acquire the following Agilent instrumentation and software:

* 1200 Series Rapid Resolution liquid chromatograph (LC);
* 1200 Series HPLC-Chip/MS systems;
* 6500 Series Accurate Mass Quadrupole Time of Flight LC/MS;
* 6400 Series triple quadrupole LC/MS; and
* 6200 Series Accurate Mass Time of Flight MS.

The Duquesne scientists also use Agilent Spectrum Mill for MassHunter Workstation software for rapid identification of large numbers of proteins and peptides.

“These powerful tools have become a mainstay for research and teaching in the school,” said Dr. David W. Seybert, dean of the Bayer School of Natural and Environmental Sciences at Duquesne. “We are educating the next generation of scientists and it is imperative that their research training incorporates the most current generation of instrumentation available.”

Under the leadership of Dr. Mitchell Johnson, associate professor, and Dr. H.M. “Skip” Kingston, professor in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, the school has forged a partnership with Agilent, a leading supplier of mass spectrometers.

The center will serve as Agilent’s regional showcase for the latest technologies in mass spectrometry, where researchers can see Agilent equipment in use investigating real problems. The center will provide a forum for the development of new applications and the testing of new ideas in search of important advances in life sciences, biomedicine, bioengineering, materials sciences, and other fields.

Next to instrument performance, flexibility is very important to the COE due to the wide variety of experiments it runs, Johnson said. “We also carefully evaluated service packages and what it costs to maintain the equipment. We were impressed with Agilent’s approach.”

Describing the impact of the new equipment, Johnson continued, “The difference between what we can do now and what we could do before is incredible. It’s moved us into an entirely new echelon of research that is now possible at Duquesne.”

In addition to its own research, the Duquesne COE also works closely with other community organizations. For example, the lab supports research investigations of a number of genetic-based disorders by the Allegheny General Hospital Allegheny Singer Research Institute and autism studies at the Children’s Institute of Pittsburgh.

“As metrologists, we’re working to solve important problems,” said Kingston, a principal investigator. “We did a study of the epigenetics of immune system responses in autistic children screening 100 children for 70 toxins, and the TOF, Q-TOF and ICP-MS instruments were used for this. We’re now researching toxins in food and their effects on children. For example, one form of selenium is healthful for humans, but there are 40 species of selenium and some of these are toxic.”

“We evaluated all the major vendors and used similar samples to evaluate all the mass specs,” said Dr. Partha Basu, associate professor, Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, Duquesne University. “In addition to instrument performance, Agilent has been a very good fit in terms of support and collaboration. We have even co-authored posters and papers with their scientists.”

Basu is investigating the protein profiles of organisms that metabolize nitrate in the hopes of developing bioremediation methods for removing metallic contamination from the environment. He’s also studying the proteomic mechanisms of how Roxarsone, an anti-parasite drug administered to chickens, is converted to inorganic arsenic, which can then enter the food chain.

“We hope to develop organisms that can do many amazing things,” said Basu.
About Agilent Technologies

Agilent Technologies Inc. (NYSE: A) is the world’s premier measurement company and a technology leader in communications, electronics, life sciences and chemical analysis. The company’s 16,000 employees serve customers in more than 110 countries. Agilent had net revenues of $4.5 billion in fiscal 2009. Information about Agilent is available on the Web at

About Duquesne University

Duquesne is a private, coeducational university with more than 10,000 students. An extensive selection of undergraduate and graduate degree programs is offered across 10 schools of study. Duquesne is consistently ranked among the nation’s top Catholic universities for its award-winning faculty and 132-year tradition of academic excellence. For more information, visit


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