The LCGC Blog: Emerging and Future Growth Concepts at the Interface between Analytical Chemistry and Medicine

Recently, I was honored to attend the 2019 Shimadzu Global Innovation Summit, hosted by Shimadzu Corporation in Kyoto, Japan. The focus of this meeting was to highlight innovation at the interface between analytical chemistry and medicine.

Recently, I was honored to attend the 2019 Shimadzu Global Innovation Summit, hosted by Shimadzu Corporation in Kyoto, Japan. The focus of this meeting was to highlight innovation at the interface between analytical chemistry and medicine. Leading researchers from around the globe were assembled to discuss recent advances and current trends, as well as emerging and future concepts. I found it interesting to try to catalog what I thought were the larger emerging and future growth concepts highlighted at this summit.

Noninvasive sensing was one area highlighted. These could be in the form of wearables to support continual patient monitoring for more personalized medicine. Items will continually become more advanced than those that currently track steps and measure heart rate, whether they are for everyday use by the masses or for more specialized circumstances. In another mode, near-infrared (NIR) brain imaging appears to hold significant promise for understanding brain function and response. Some excellent research was presented on the use of NIR brain imaging for studying personal interactions, especially how people’s brains respond when they interact with a person on a video screen or in person. Such studies can be imagined to potentially affect a great variety of areas, from marketing to teaching. If you look far enough out, perhaps these types of studies could also help reveal information about the origins of consciousness. (I feel like there should be spooky music queued to play as soon as you read, “origins of consciousness.” Sounds interesting, but this is definitely outside my wheelhouse.)

Artificial intelligence (AI) is becoming virtually (no pun intended) unavoidable. Yet, it is clear that AI and machine learning are at the forefront of developments in the analytical and medical fields. More and more measurements on more and more patients makes for big data-so many variables that mere humans do not stand a chance to comprehend all of the possible interactions and correlations. At the user level, instrument intelligence can make complicated systems easier to use, as well as more robust and reliable. Data generated on a single patient sample can then be combined with myriad additional data points to help move toward effective continual and personalized health monitoring. Strategies, workflows, and tools for custom bioinformatics to connect limitless -omics-type data to understand systems biology will be a growing trend. On the surface, to me, sometimes the ingenuity appears to come in how these complex data sets can be visualized and represented to the researcher in order to draw effective conclusions.

I wrote about exosomes a couple months ago in one of my blogs, discussing their promise for cancer biomarker discovery and quantitation (1). Exosomes returned a few times to center stage in the discussions at the summit. These nanometer-sized vesicles are shed by all living cells. Their importance in the body, especially to signaling between cells, is an area of immense interest, which will continue to grow. Even at this time, researchers are still grappling with the best ways to isolate exosomes from various sample types, including a variety of biological fluids. More and more different sizes and types of exosomes are being discovered. Beyond humans, exosomes are likely to be heavily involved in the communication between plants and microorganisms in the rhizosphere. I see virtually no end in sight to the importance and utility of studying exosomes and their relationship to diseases, as well as more generally for intra- and inter-organismal communication.

Finally, presentations about the role of the gut microbiome in human health really helped me solidify my view that this is potentially one of the most transformative areas of research taking place at the interface between medicine and analysis. Hallway conversations with the leaders in the field confirmed suspicions that there is not likely a single condition that humans experience that is not connected to the interactions between microbes in the gut and the body as a whole. Metabolomics and large clinical trials are likely the major tools to help unlock these connections. All of these things are happening in the body, and they are further influenced by the outside environment. The notion of exposomics and a better understanding of the connections between environmental exposures (from air, water, food, and so on) and human health builds another layer around the complexity of interactions already taking place in the body.

To think about where we will be in five, ten, or even twenty years, especially looking back the same distance and seeing where we were, is fascinating and exciting. It is absolutely essential that private industries continue to partner with academic institutions to help drive innovation together-to provide new tools and different ways to use them, so that the benefit to society and humankind can be maximized. We are in an exciting time for the unlocking of important scientific knowledge so that we can continue to build and grow, all the while being happier and healthier.

Reference

Kevin A. Schug is a Full Professor and Shimadzu Distinguished Professor of Analytical Chemistry in the Department of Chemistry & Biochemistry at The University of Texas (UT) at Arlington. He joined the faculty at UT Arlington in 2005 after completing a Ph.D. in Chemistry at Virginia Tech under the direction of Prof. Harold M. McNair and a post-doctoral fellowship at the University of Vienna under Prof. Wolfgang Lindner. Research in the Schug group spans fundamental and applied areas of separation science and mass spectrometry. Schug was named the LCGC Emerging Leader in Chromatography in 2009 and the 2012 American Chemical Society Division of Analytical Chemistry Young Investigator in Separation Science. He is a fellow of both the U.T. Arlington and U.T. System-Wide Academies of Distinguished Teachers.