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CDC Emergency Response Branch Expanding Toxin Testing Capabilities

NOAA MERIS image of large cyanobacterial bloom confirmed as Microcystis aeruginosa.

The CDC National Center for Environmental Health (NCEH) Division of Laboratory Sciences (DLS) Emergency Response Branch (ERB) has awarded a sole source contract to The University of Melbourne for the development of reference methods and materials specific for assessing human exposure to microcystin and related toxins.

The CDC has developed clinical assays for determining human exposure to a number of marine toxins such as the compounds in the saxitoxin family. It is the goal of the ERB to expand its response capabilities to include a number of freshwater cyanotoxins such as microcystin in clinical samples. By doing so, the CDC ERB can increase the preparedness of an emergency response to contaminated drinking water.

Traditionally, determination of human exposure to microcystins and related marine toxins has been through a variety of analytical methods including ELISA, HPLC-MS and GC-MS. Microcystins are known to exist post-exposure in both the bound and free state, often difficult to extract from matrices such as serum due to the complexity of the matrix. Microcystin is a cyclic peptide and can bind to serum proteins as well. This complicates the ability of analysts to evaluate the extent of exposure.  As a cyclic peptide, microcystin reference material is also hard to obtain outside of intricate biosynthesis.

For this project, reference methods and materials specific for cyanotoxins such as microcystin will be identified and developed. A final quantitative UHPLC-MS/MS method, UHPLC-HRMS method and reference materials will be identified and all information on clinical significance, proper sample

processing and handling, and how to incorporate the new reference methods and materials into the current mass spectrometry based methods will be transferred to the CDC in the form of written reports to be delivered at six months and one year from the initial award date.

The Laboratory of Biological and Biomedical Mass Spectrometry of The University of Melbourne is an international leader in biological and biomedical mass spectrometry and has UHPLC-MS/MS and UHPLC-HRMS capabilities. The laboratory is a leader in quantitative proteomics and has a demonstrated track record of developing quantitative analytical methods.


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