Ambient ionization mass spectrometry for the forensic screening of pharmaceuticals and the determination of potential drug candidates
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Ambient mass spectrometry (MS) is a new and growing sub-field in MS which has opened new research avenues, particularly for applications relating to the analysis of solid samples. Results on the implementation and application of ambient MS techniques including: desorption electrospray ionization (DESI) and direct analysis in real time (DART) indicated that these techniques could serve as complementary tools for the rapid qualitative screening of pharmaceuticals, allowing up to two orders of magnitude improvement in throughput compared to traditional methods such as liquid chromatography MS. The selectivity of DESI could be enhanced by performing the experiment in the reactive mode. In this mode, complexation reactions between reagents added to the spray solvent and analytes on the sample surface resulted in analyte stabilization, inhibiting fragmentation. They also resulted in a concomitant enhancement in the analyte surface activity, facilitating their evaporation from secondary droplets culminating in an improvement in sensitivity. Also for drug tablets analysis, the analyte signal dependency on DESI geometrical set-up variables could be mitigated following the careful and controlled addition of an isotopically labeled internal standard (IS) to the sample or by spraying samples with a pair of reagents with different affinities for the analyte. Either of these approaches resulted in an analyte-to-IS signal ratio (in the former) or an analyte complex ratio (in the later), which was largely independent of DESI experimental variables allowing quantitative analysis using this technique. DESI MS was also observed to be a very powerful tool for determining the 2-D distribution of various pharmaceutically important compounds on tablet and tissue surfaces. The ability to map the distribution of molecules of interest by DESI MS has very great implications in drug tablet quality control and in determining the role of chemical signals presented on tissue surfaces. DESI was observed to be limited to ionizing molecules of medium to high polarities without much limitation in terms of mass range, whereas DART was better suited for the analysis of molecules within a broader range of polarities, but within a more limited mass range (up to 800 Da approximately). These limitations were circumvented by implementing a novel multimode ambient ion source, desorption electrospray/metastable-induced ionization (DEMI), which combines various aspects of DESI and DART. Initial experiments with the DEMI ion source demonstrated its ability to enable the simultaneous analysis of molecules within a broader range of polarities and masses than DESI and DART alone.