This technology speeds up applications from the clinic through next generation sequencing.

In separating ions, capillary electrophoresis (CE) works just as the name suggests, using a capillary. The less obvious side of this technology revolves around its expanding use. It appears in academic research and regulated environments. In addition, capillary electrophoresis contributes to other technologies, and even more uses of capillary electrophoresis lie ahead.

“Capillary electrophoresis has really blossomed over the past 10 years,” says Mark Lies, PhD, global marketing manager for capillary electrophoresis at Beckman Coulter Life Sciences. “You can use capillary electrophoresis to develop automated, quantitative processes.”

PA 800 plus Pharmaceutical Analysis System
The PA 800 plus Pharmaceutical Analysis System uses capillary electrophoresis in small-molecule applications, protein-purity assays and more. (Source: Beckman Coulter Life Sciences)

As an example, Lies describes using CE to “take snapshots of the analytical profile of a material at the beginning of development and at each step until you have a product.” He adds, “Then, you can compare the snapshots to see if anything changed. It could help to identify problems at various stages of the process.”

A Focus on Pharma
Lies and his colleagues know plenty about using CE in pharmaceutical research, because Beckman Coulter makes the PA 800 plus Pharma-ceutical Analysis System. “It was developed with input and feedback from biopharma for protein characterization,” says Lies. This platform also finds use in small-molecule applications as well as assays for protein purity and heterogeneity assessment.

Next year, Beckman Coulter plans to introduce the CESI 8000 High Performance Separation - ESI Module. “It integrates capillary electrophoresis with electrospray ionization in one dynamic process within the same device,” says Edna Betgovargez, senior global marketing specialist, analytical products at Beckman Coulter Life Sciences. “The CESI 8000 is ultra low flow, and that reduces ion suppression and significantly improves the ionization efficiency, which leads to higher sensitivity.”

Serum Proteins in Clinical Practice
“In the clinic,” says John O’Keefe, product manager of electrophoresis at Helena Laboratories, “90 to 95 percent of the use of capillary electrophoresis involves serum proteins.” He points out that clinical facilities also hoped to use CE for proteins from urine samples, but the crystal nature of the fluid often clogs the capillary.

To help clinics use this technology, Helena Laboratories makes the V8 Automated Clinical Capillary Electrophoresis platform. “It was developed by our English subsidiary, Helena Biosciences,” O’Keefe says. “In Europe, capillary electrophoresis is the major way of doing electrophoresis in a clinical lab.”

When asked about the key benefits of using capillary electrophoresis, O’Keefe says, “Automation. The main advantage is full automation.”

Swifter Sequencing
“In our technology,” says Rachel Formosa, senior global marketing development manager at Life Technologies, “we use capillary electrophoresis in our genetic analyzers—sequencing instruments.” Researchers use these instruments for traditional Sanger sequencing and fragment analysis. “There’s lots of interest in new sequencing techniques, especially for the de novo sequencing of new genomes and new species,” says Formosa. “Many people are starting to perform Sanger sequencing in conjunction with next generation sequencing.” For instance, a biologist might use next generation sequencing for de novo work, basically discovery, and then use Sanger sequencing for confirmation or to sequence difficult regions.

Formosa explains that fragment analysis involves “any application that someone develops using a capillary-electrophoresis instrument to separate DNA fragments based on size.” Those fragments can be compared to a reference standard. Formosa adds, “Researchers might use this approach when looking for microsatellite markers.” Separating the fragments with a standard agarose gel could do this work, but “capillary electrophoresis gives you the capacity to multiplex your microsatellite markers and the high resolution to distinguish differences between these markers,” Formosa says.

Life Technologies allows researchers to benefit from CE through platforms such as its 3500 Genetic Analyzer. “We incorporated mechanisms to track information, like [radio-frequency identification] tags and software processes,” Formosa says. She points out that those changes attract the attention of more users. “Beyond interest in clinical work, we also have a lot of basic-research customers interested in this system because of the smaller footprint and easy use.” Formosa says. The 3500 Genetic Analyzer works with as many as 24 capillaries, which Formosa says “allows up to 1,100 sequencing samples per day.”

So from basic research through regulatory processes, capillary electrophoresis appears more and more. The automation of this technology provides an often-irresistible capability.

This article was published in Bioscience Technology magazine: Vol. 36, No. 7, August, 2012, pp. 10.