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Protein analysis is vastly important to biological sciences, as it allows researchers to examine the makeup and function of tissues and organisms on a subcellular level. This area of study permits virtually limitless applications, including disease detection, genetic evaluations, and pharmaceutical development. Analysis methods in the previous 20 years have evolved significantly in terms of speed, measurement, accuracy and sensitivity. By contrast, the upstream portion of protein analysis—protein digestion—has seen limited evolution and has been a barrier to high-throughput protein analysis.

In traditional protein digestion methods, a specialized group of enzymes, proteases, cuts the proteins into peptides. For these reactions to be as complete as possible, the reactions are completed overnight. The high-pressure enzymatic digestion system, developed by researchers at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL), uses elevated pressure supplied by a Barocycler® to complete protein digestion in less than 60 seconds and, in some cases, results in a greater number of peptides for analysis. Because of its speed, the high-pressure protein digestion allows higher throughput, which increases the volume of studies involving protein digestion, reduces the cost of analyses, and allows for a quicker diagnosis in clinical applications. Other contemporary methods may take hours and often do not provide quality consistent with the high-pressure enzymatic digestion system or with traditional overnight protein digestion.

This technology was licensed to Pressure BioSciences, Inc. (PBI), a publicly traded company that specializes in products for use in biological applications. Licensing negotiations began in October 2008 and concluded in December 2008. The speed at which the agreement was placed reflects the business-oriented relationship between the two organizations. It also emphasizes that a federal laboratory is agile and responsive to the needs of its business partners.

PBI and PNNL also collaborated to develop the technology for market applications. As a result of this joint work, PBI introduced three products directly related to the technology transfer shortly after the execution of the license agreement. PNNL researchers continue to assist PBI in the development of this technology, and both organizations also continue to collaborate in marketplace awareness. As an example, PNNL scientists have been introduced via PBI to new contacts in the proteomics and biological research community. These contacts include scientists from the Harvard School of Public Health, the Harvard School of Dental Medicine, and Thermo Fisher Scientific, Inc.
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