Jeffrey M. Spraggins
The primary focus of our research group is the development of next-generation imaging mass spectrometry (IMS) technologies to elucidate the molecular basis of health and disease. Modern instrumentation and computing capabilities have enabled researchers to move beyond reductionist biology and, instead, probe how the components of biological entities (e.g. molecules, cells, and tissues) interact to reveal the underlying biology of disease. This systems biology approach has been accelerated by advancements in high-throughput ‘omics’ technologies, however, genetic and molecular information are only part of the story. The challenge lies in understanding how these parts interact and how perturbations to the system relate to disease.
Molecular imaging effectively offers a ‘blueprint’ as to how biological components work together by providing spatial context to molecular information. From the advent of the complex microscope in the late 1600s to modern modalities such as magnetic resonance, positron emission tomography, and advanced microscopy, imaging technologies have always been at the forefront of our understanding of biochemistry and biology. However, relative to the new -omics technologies, these classical biomedical imaging technologies have limited molecular specificity. Mass spectrometry-based imaging now finds itself uniquely positioned to bridge the gap between the information rich genomics, proteomics, and metabolomics approaches and biomedical imaging technologies. IMS combines the molecular specificity of mass spectrometry with the spatial fidelity of classical histology to create molecular maps of tissues. Broadly, my research falls into two categories: (1) Developing novel mass spectrometry technologies to maximize imaging performance enabling molecular histology at cellular resolution and (2) combining imaging mass spectrometry with a variety of other biomedical imaging technologies to create new integrated modalities capable of providing a systems biology view of tissue at cellular resolution. We are applying these advanced technologies to better understand critical biomedical research areas such as infectious disease and diabetes.