Automated combustion accelerator mass spectrometry for the analysis of biomedical samples in the low attomole range

Anal Chem. 2014 Aug 5;86(15):7635-41. doi: 10.1021/ac5015035. Epub 2014 Jul 25.


The increasing role of accelerator mass spectrometry (AMS) in biomedical research necessitates modernization of the traditional sample handling process. AMS was originally developed and used for carbon dating, therefore focusing on a very high precision but with a comparably low sample throughput. Here, we describe the combination of automated sample combustion with an elemental analyzer (EA) online coupled to an AMS via a dedicated interface. This setup allows direct radiocarbon measurements for over 70 samples daily by AMS. No sample processing is required apart from the pipetting of the sample into a tin foil cup, which is placed in the carousel of the EA. In our system, up to 200 AMS analyses are performed automatically without the need for manual interventions. We present results on the direct total (14)C count measurements in <2 μL human plasma samples. The method shows linearity over a range of 0.65-821 mBq/mL, with a lower limit of quantification of 0.65 mBq/mL (corresponding to 0.67 amol for acetaminophen). At these extremely low levels of activity, it becomes important to quantify plasma specific carbon percentages. This carbon percentage is automatically generated upon combustion of a sample on the EA. Apparent advantages of the present approach include complete omission of sample preparation (reduced hands-on time) and fully automated sample analysis. These improvements clearly stimulate the standard incorporation of microtracer research in the drug development process. In combination with the particularly low sample volumes required and extreme sensitivity, AMS strongly improves its position as a bioanalysis method.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Validation Study

MeSH terms

  • Automation*
  • Limit of Detection
  • Mass Spectrometry / methods*