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Ed Yeung, Chemistry, (515) 294-8062
Skip Derra, News Service, (515) 294-4917


AMES, Iowa -- A new chemical analysis method that could have a dramatic effect on several fields ranging from drug discovery to deciphering the genetic code of humans, has earned an R&D 100 Award for Ed Yeung, distinguished professor of chemistry at Iowa State University.

This is the fourth R&D 100 Award for Yeung, who also is director of Ames Laboratory's Chemical and Biological Sciences Program. Yeung shares the 2001 R&D 100 Award with graduate student Xiaoyi Gong.

A commercial instrument based on Yeung's technique (called multiplexed capillary electrophoresis using absorption detection), is the MCE 2000. The instrument can rapidly detect and quantify chemical compounds in low concentrations or in small amounts.

This is Iowa State's 23rd R&D 100 Award since 1984. The R&D 100 Awards, the only awards for applied science and scientists, have been called the "Oscars of applied science" by the Chicago Tribune.

The R&D 100 Awards, sponsored by R&D Magazine and in its 39th year, honors the top 100 products of technological significance that were marketed or licensed during the previous calendar year. All of the 100 award winners will be honored at a banquet in Chicago in October.

The MCE 2000 simultaneously separates, detects, monitors and quantifies chemical or biochemical compounds in 96 independent mixtures. It does this through a novel combination of established chemical separation, detection and computer analysis techniques. The result is an instrument that can decipher chemical information much more rapidly than today's standard methods.

The resulting gains in speed and accuracy, Yeung said, means the MCE 2000 can be used to detect genetic defects in individuals faster, more accurately and less expensively than other methods. It also can be used as an analysis tool in the synthesis of new chemicals, where scientists literally sort through hundreds of thousands of compounds trying to identify the few that can be used as more effective drugs to treat diseases.

"This new method allows for universal detection of a majority of compounds, eliminating the need for expensive, cumbersome and potentially hazardous use of fluorescent tags," said Yeung, who has filed for a world-wide patent on the technology. Yeung anticipates that the MCE 2000 will eventually replace high-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC), a well-established and commercially successful method of chemical separation used in biology and chemistry laboratories.

Capillary electrophoresis, one of the methods employed in the new instrument, uses an electric current that causes the molecules in a sample to migrate at different speeds according to their size and charge. The capillaries are silica tubes 75 microns (0.003 inches) wide and 2 meters (6.6 feet) long. The MCE 2000 uses 96 capillaries at one time, and the system potentially can be expanded to use as many as 1,024 capillaries simultaneously, Yeung said.

While in operation, the MCE 2000 focuses ultraviolet light through a tiny window illuminating the capillaries. The migrating molecules within the capillaries absorb the light, which is then detected by an array of photodiodes. The resulting data, along with the time it takes for the molecules to migrate, is sent to a computer where software interprets it, revealing the type and quantity of separated compounds. Typical analysis times are 10 to 15 minutes, Yeung said.

Yeung explained that the MCE 2000 applies massive parallel processing to chromatographic separations. Where conventional instruments can only look at one sample at a time, the MCE 2000 can look at 96 simultaneous separations of compounds. Sample size and use of reagents by the MCE 2000 also is approximately 1/1000th what can be used with conventional high-performance liquid chromatography.

"A head-to-head comparison indicates that the MCE 2000 will do everything a standard commercial system will do, but do it 96 times faster," Yeung said. "So one MCE 2000 instrument is equivalent to having 96 standard commercial HPLC systems all at once."

Yeung added that in the case of drug discovery, the use of the MCE 2000 could allow companies to look at all of their potential compounds rather than the roughly 10 percent of the total they currently look at. The new technology also can be used in a variety of ways including genomics, forensics, combinatorial chemistry, quality control and early disease detection.

CombiSep, a start-up company located in the ISU Research Park, is commercializing the invention. The company was founded by Yeung, Shelley Coldiron and Marc Porter, all scientists at Iowa State and Ames Laboratory; and Steve Ringlee, a local businessman.


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