Purdue University Graduate School
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posted on 2023-07-25, 16:05 authored by Nicolas Mauricio Morato GutierrezNicolas Mauricio Morato Gutierrez

The rapid analysis of complex samples using mass spectrometry (MS) provides valuable information in both point-of-care (e.g. drug testing) and laboratory-based applications, including the generation of spectral libraries for classification of biosamples, the identification of biomarkers through large-scale studies, as well as the synthesis and bioactivity assessments of large compound sets necessary for drug discovery. In all these cases, the inherent speed of MS is attractive, but rarely fully utilized due to the widespread use of sample purification techniques prior to analysis. Ambient ionization methodologies can help circumvent this drawback by facilitating high-throughput qualitative and quantitative analysis directly from the complex samples without any need for work-up. For instance, the use of swabs or paper substrates allows for rapid identification, quantification, and confirmation, of drugs of abuse from biofluids or surfaces of forensic interest in a matter of minutes, as described in the first two chapters of this dissertation. Faster analysis can be achieved using an automated desorption electrospray ionization (DESI) platform which allows for the rapid and direct screening of complex-sample microarrays with throughputs better than 1 sample per second, giving access to rich spectral information from tens of thousands of samples per day. The development of the bioanalytical capabilities of this platform, particularly within the context of drug discovery (e.g. bioactivity assays, biosample analysis), is described across most other chapters of this dissertation. The use of DESI, a contactless ambient ionization method developed in our laboratory and whose 20 years of history are overviewed in the introduction of this document, provides an additional advantage as the secondary microdroplets generated through the DESI process act as reaction vessels that can accelerate organic reactions by up to six orders of magnitude, facilitating on-the-fly synthesis of new compounds from arrays of starting materials. Unique implications of this microdroplet chemistry in the prebiotic synthesis of peptides and spontaneous redox chemistry at air-solution interfaces, together with its practical applications to the synthesis of new drug molecules, are also overviewed. The success obtained with the first automated DESI-MS system, developed within the DARPA Make It program, led to increased interest in a new-generation platform which was designed over the past year, as overviewed in the last section of this dissertation, and which is currently being installed for validation prior to the transfer of the technology to NCATS, where we anticipate it will make a significant impact through the consolidation and acceleration of the early drug discovery workflow.


Degree Type

  • Doctor of Philosophy


  • Chemistry

Campus location

  • West Lafayette

Advisor/Supervisor/Committee Chair

R. Graham Cooks

Additional Committee Member 2

Julia Laskin

Additional Committee Member 3

Elizabeth I. Parkinson

Additional Committee Member 4

Andrew D. Mesecar