Turbulent Flow Chromatography

The project entitled ‘Renewable turbulent flow chromatography for exposomics’ will be developed by Dr. David J. Cocovi-Solberg in BOKU under supervision of Dr. Stephan Hann and involves the design of novel analytical systems for automating all analysis steps in 'exposome' studies, and is funded by the 'Fonds zur Förderung der wissenschaftlichen Forschung' (FWF).

Traditional studies for detection of environmental contaminants refer to the total amount of specific target substances found in different environmental compartments. Contrariwise, exposome studies try to investigate potential toxicity based on the whole pool of substances and metabolites to which human beings might be exposed to during their lifetime cycle. Those exposome studies are very complicated because up to thousands of substances present in very small amounts (down to parts per billion) are to be measured in each sample, and many samples must be analyzed to get conclusive results. Mass spectrometers are the instruments of choice for such studies. As a drawback, these analytical platforms are very sensitive to external conditions, and exposome samples cannot be analyzed directly. Samples must be pretreated with cumbersome procedures involving many steps, high amounts of chemicals and many working hours in order to remove sample constituents that could falsify the LC-MS results and negatively affect instrument performance and durability.

For this reason, the project carried out at the University of BOKU aims at designing novel approaches based on pumps, valves and 3D printed components that will automatically, that is, without analyst intervention, take the sample, remove interfering sample constituents, concentrate the substances of interest that are present in very small amounts, and in general, prepare the sample for the LC-MS analysis. The heart of the instrument to be designed is based on the principle named 'Turbulent Flow Chromatography' (TFC), that is known for long time ago but passed unnoticed until very recently. This principle relies upon the favorable effects that happen when the sample is passed at a high speed on a bed of microscopic beads for separation of substances of interest.

Thanks to advances in new materials, computer control and 3D printing technology, the TFC principle will be revisited and a proof of concept of the instrument designed. The computer-controlled operation along with the flexibility of the designed instrument will allow very complicated sequences to be executed, for analyzing different families of substances, and all in unmanned operation, that is, no scientific supervision will be needed during the entire analysis workflow.