Inside the Laboratory: The Yang Group of the University of Oklahoma

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Inside the Laboratory is a joint series with LCGC and Spectroscopy, profiling analytical scientists and their research groups at universities all over the world. This series will spotlight the current chromatographic and spectroscopic research their group is conducting, and the importance of their research in analytical chemistry and specific industries. In our second edition of “Inside the Laboratory,” Zhibo Yang, PhD, an associate professor of chemistry at the University of Oklahoma, discusses his group’s most recent work in single-cell mass spectrometry (MS) and MS tissue imaging.

The Yang Laboratory is part of the University of Oklahoma Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, in Norman, Oklahoma. The Yang Laboratory explores the use of mass spectrometry (MS) in applications such as single-cell analysis, fundamental ion chemistry, tissue imaging, live spheroid analysis, and enhanced data analysis.

Exterior view of the Bizzell Memorial Library at the University of Oklahoma in Norman, Oklahoma | Image Credit: © Kit Leong – stock.adobe.com

Exterior view of the Bizzell Memorial Library at the University of Oklahoma in Norman, Oklahoma | Image Credit: © Kit Leong – stock.adobe.com

Zhibo Yang, PhD, associate professor in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at the University of Oklahoma, is the principal investigator. Yang received his Ph.D at Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan, and completed his Postdoc training at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and the University of Colorado. After his Postdoc, Yang served as an Assistant Professor at the University of Oklahoma before being promoted to Associate Professor in 2018. He has published ~90 papers and received the ASMS Research Award in 2014 and the Chan Zuckerburg Initiative Award in 2023.

Dr. Zhibo Yang of the University of Oklahoma | Photo Credit: © Zhibo Yang

Dr. Zhibo Yang of the University of Oklahoma | Photo Credit: © Zhibo Yang

Recently, Yang took some time to sit down with LCGC to briefly highlight his group’s recent work and the importance of his group’s work within the broader field of analytical chemistry and bioanalysis.

Can you talk about the analytical techniques that your group used in your most recent research project?

Our group is focused on the development and application of novel mass spectrometry (MS) techniques for microscale bioanalysis. We are particularly interested in single cell MS and MS imaging studies. We have developed a microscale sampling and ionization device, the Single-probe, that can be coupled to MS instrument to directly extract molecules (such as metabolites and drug compounds) from live single cells for real-time MS analysis. Using this technique, we can detect and quantify (with the presence of internal standard) molecules of interest (for example, metabolites and drug compounds) in single cells. The Single-probe can be also used for MS imaging studies to map the spatial distribution of biomolecules on tissue slices. In addition to using our home-built technique, we use a commercialized setup, the Waters DESI XS, for MS imaging studies.

Can you explain the importance of your research within the broader field of analytical chemistry or in a specific industry/application?

Both single-cell MS and MS imaging are emerging fields in MS studies. These novel techniques can be used to answer fundamental questions that are otherwise intractable. For example, it is well accepted that nearly all biological systems are heterogeneous. Single-cell MS is an indispensable tool to understand the molecular compositions of single cells, allowing us to understand the status and functions of specific cells among heterogenous populations. On the other hand, MS imaging studies provide crucial information to understand how cells are organized to provide biological functions. These novel tools are important for not only fundamental research (such as cell biology and disease studies), but potential broad applications (such as pharmaceutical industry and clinical diagnosis).

How do you stay updated with advancements in analytical chemistry techniques and technologies? Can you discuss a recent innovation or development that you find particularly impactful or exciting?

Single-cell MS and MS imaging are rapidly growing subfields in MS study areas. To stay updated in these fields, we try to learn most recent studies by reading relevant articles in journals and attending conferences. We also pay particular attention to news from manufactures, who develop and release the most recent instruments and advanced techniques. In addition, communication with peers in our field is an effective way to learn the latest advancements. We are particularly excited to learn groundbreaking MS instruments such as the Thermo Scientific Orbitrap Astral, Bruker’s timsTOF Ultra, and Waters Select Series Cyclic IMS. These advanced instruments will greatly promote modern MS studies in many aspects.

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