IonSense Sets a New Course

Established in 2005, IonSense is the only company to offer DART (Direct Analysis in Real Time) technology. DART, and its newest iteration, DART JumpShot, are open-air ambient ionization sources for mass spectrometry (MS). DART is able to analyze samples in their native states at atmospheric pressure without sample contact. Based in Massachusetts, the company currently has 10 employees.

IonSense began a new chapter this summer with the appointment of Jeffrey Zonderman as CEO and President. Mr. Zonderman comes to the company from laboratory tool firm RedShift Bioanalytics. Among his priorities is to focus IonSense on providing a complete solution based on DART, rather than only the DART source itself. The complete solution will consist of the DART ionization source as well as a mass spectrometer and dedicated software and service.

“The company has been very successful [with a] bolt-on sales model where we do a lot of applications with a lot of different mass spec platforms. We have established a user base of over 1,000 units shipped out,” Mr. Zonderman told IBO. “Because of this we see where the strengths of our technology can take us with the development of a complete solution, which is what our customer base and partners are asking for.”

DART technology can ionize solids, liquids and gases and requires no extraction, eliminating the need for liquid chromatography (LC) or sample preparation and thus increasing ease of use and speed. Compared to other ambient ionization techniques, DART can easily work with solids and is more amenable to automation, said Mr. Zonderman.

Last year, JumpShot DART was introduced which applies pulses of gas rather than a continuous flow, cutting gas usage and improving speed and data quality. According to Mr. Zonderman, the technology reduces gas consumption 95%, resulting in cost savings and increased portability as no tank is required.

Other updates to the DART technology have made it easier to use for scientists more familiar with traditional front-end separation technology. “[We’ve] added thermodynamics absorption and temperature gradients that have really opened up a lot of applications for DART technology,” he said. Also, like LC, DART data is now displayed as a spectra.

“It will make it far easier for users to adopt in the applied markets because it’s one vendor.”

DART’s primary business had been applications in the applied markets, such as food, environmental analysis, forensics and toxicology, where complete vendor solutions have an advantage. “It will make it far easier for users to adopt in the applied markets because it’s one vendor. They don’t have to deal with multiple vendors or multiple mass specs,” noted Mr. Zonderman. “When you move into applied markets, you need a ‘box’ that is consistent and [the results are] always the same.” He added, “To support the needs of the applied markets, what we see at IonSense is we need to standardize and support the whole workflow.”

Among the applications in the food market are the detection of pesticides in apple juice or on an apple’s surface. Other food market applications include food authenticity and nutrient analysis. A recent paper by the FDA’s Forensic Chemistry Center compared the use of DART to other techniques to screen for mitragynine in food and drug products. Analyses using DART produced no false positives or negatives.

DART JumpShot’s increased portability also opens up new applications for the technology; notably, workspaces where MS has not been regularly employed. “These are the applied applications where [scientists] may be using mass spec in a core, but there’s a lot of discussion in needing to move that into the field or onto the floor or to a decentralized lab,” explained Mr. Zonderman. “DART is one of those tools that enables applied workflows for forensics, toxicology and food safety and environmental, and bioprocessing or PAT applications.”

In general, within the MS market, portable MS systems are moving toward becoming point-of-need solutions, according to Mr. Zonderman. “We do see some [MS] companies getting into these environments with smaller and more cost effective systems.” DART technology is particularly adaptable to such environments. “We can monitor a lot of things just in their native states, which is a big feature when you’re talking about doing it in the field or in a truck or on a manufacturing floor.”

Creating a complete workflow solution for DART will involve few changes to the core technology, according to Mr. Zonderman, especially with DART benefitting from an established history in core labs. “There’s really not even a lot of method development, in my mind. It really is engineering for some cost reduction and optimization so it’s really a single-vendor-supportable product that meets the user needs and the workflow needs of a user base that’s starting to use mass spec,” he said.

Summing up IonSense’s future, Mr. Zonderman commented, “We only sell and support part of [the DART MS workflow], and really the goal of IonSense is to take the next step and own the whole workflow, to better support and enable the move of mass spec out of the conventional mass spec lab into the field and onto the floor for the next generation of applied mass spec applications.” Backing the move will be core labs’ experience with DART and DART’s unique technology.