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Interview: An analytical diagnosis
04 December 2008
May Copsey talks to Maria Montes-Bayón about solving medical science problems and how analytical scientists must take the next big step
Maria Montes-Bayón is an associate professor at the University of Oviedo in Spain and a member of the Metallomics and Journal of Analytical Atomic Spectrometry advisory boards. Her research interests include elemental speciation studies of clinical biomarkers and metals in biological systems, using both atomic and molecular mass spectrometry.
Who inspired you to become a scientist?
I was laughing about this the other day when someone asked me: 'Did you have a chemistry set when you were younger?' I really did have one! My father's company would give presents to the children every Christmas. One year we were too late to pick our presents and the only things left were chemistry sets, so I had one whether I wanted it or not! But I was really amazed with it and it was my first step into chemistry. When I took chemistry in high school, I realised I was an experimentalist: I liked the creative side. I would never be a theoretician or a physical chemist.
When I was deciding on my degree, I thought about English or journalism. Maybe they are related to science too, somehow, because you are searching for the truth. However, I liked chemistry best and I feel really lucky with my job because I do something that I love.
What are the most exciting projects in your lab?
So is it a case of selling these analytical methods to medical science?
Exactly, not that I think they would use them on a regular basis; however, we can develop some methods that could be very useful to validate their clinical measurements. For example, recently we examined the validation of a method for measuring glycated haemoglobin. We are also working on cisplatin adducts with DNA, to see if we can predict if somebody will be resistant to an anticancer drug before they undergo trials. Medical scientists do not need to understand exactly what we do, but my goal is to help solve some problems for them.
Can you tell me how your research interests have developed?
In the late 1990s when I finished my PhD, like most people in this area I started looking at small molecule speciation in environmental issues. Then I moved to the US where I worked with Professor Joseph Caruso. He was doing atomic and molecular detection simultaneously, using ICP-MS (inductively coupled plasma mass spectroscopy) and electrospray mass spectrometry. We studied phytoremediation, again looking at small molecules, but this time related to selenium metabolism in plants. When I returned to Spain, I joined the group of Professor Sanz-Medel; he was very impressed with the emerging proteomics world. However, we soon realised that it would not be our task to do pure proteomics (from a biochemical point of view), but we could contribute a lot to the detection of heteroelements (e.g. metals, metalloids or even non-metals) associated to biomolecules like proteins or DNA. We mustn't forget that having a background in the analytical field, we look at things from an atomic or elemental point of view. So the idea is to show researchers in biochemistry, medicine and clinical chemistry, what we can do for them.
Do you see the future of this area as a combination of molecular and atomic mass spectrometry?
How do you come up with your ideas of research areas to study?
I read analytical journals, but I often need to check on clinical or biological chemistry. However, there is no specific journal that publishes clinical parameters of interest. I normally choose clinical parameters that I think we can study in a better or different way to complement the clinical science. Additionally, we collaborate with the University Hospital and with the Oncology Institute here in Oviedo and this gives you a closer idea of what doctors and clinical chemists are demanding from us. When you are from the analytical field, it's very difficult to persuade doctors that you can provide useful methods to help them to interpret their biological results, but little by little, we are convincing them. You always need this sort of connection.
What do you like to do when you're not doing chemistry?
I'm a singer and I play the guitar a little, but just for friends. To make my living out of singing would be rather difficult. I like to take small risks, of course, otherwise I wouldn't be in science, but just small steps. Instead I sing for fun. Sometimes I come home with my head full of concerns about experiments or teaching issues and then I take my guitar, close the door, and sing for half an hour. Then I'm ready to "rock and roll" again.
Maria Montes-Bayón's homepage
Maria Montes-Bayón's homepage
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Also of interest
A more accurate method to measure iron in clinical samples is proving ahead of its time, say researchers in Spain.
Simultaneous determination of glycated haemoglobin, a long term biomarker of diabetes mellitus, and total haemoglobin by isotope dilution and HPLC-ICP-MS
M. Estela del Castillo Busto, María Montes-Bayón, Elena Añón and Alfredo Sanz-Medel, J. Anal. At. Spectrom., 2008, 23, 758
Stable isotope labelling and FPLC–ICP-SFMS for the accurate determination of clinical iron status parameters in human serum
M. Estela del Castillo Busto, Maria Montes-Bayón, Jörg Bettmer and Alfredo Sanz-Medel, Analyst, 2008, 133, 379
Atomic (HPLC-ICP-MS) and molecular mass spectrometry (ESI-Q-TOF) to study cis-platin interactions with serum proteins
Diego Esteban-Fernández, M. Montes-Bayón, E. Blanco González, M. M. Gómez Gómez, M. A. Palacios and A. Sanz-Medel, J. Anal. At. Spectrom., 2008, 23, 378