MALDI-TOF, New Diagnostic for Animals

Early diagnosis of a disease is a critical factor in finding a cure and/or extending a good quality life.

MALDI-TOF (Matrix Assisted Laser Desorption/Ionization-Time of Flight) is a technology that has been used for years in human medicine. Veterinary laboratories are now using this technology as an aid to identify bacteria in animals.

How it Works:

Take for example an animal that is experiencing respiratory distress. The vet needs to know the proper treatment for the illness so he sends a sample of the animals bacteria to the Lab. There, the sample bacteria is grown for 24-48 hours. The bacteria is then placed on a metal-plate target at the bottom of the MALDI-TOF machine at a slight angle.


The process includes creating a vacuum, firing a laser at the bacteria for ionization (the process whereby an atom or molecule acquires a negative or positive charge by gaining or losing electrons to form ions often in conjunction with other chemical changes). The time it takes for the individual ions to go up the tube to the top of the machine is measured. The amount of proteins which are present in all microorganisms, is compared with the samples in the database to identify the bacteria.Up to 48 individual bacteria samples can be placed on the metal plate for the machine to identify electrons to form ions (atoms or molecules in which the total number of electrons is not equal to the total number of proteins giving the atoms or molecules a net positive or negative charge) often in conjunction with other chemical changes.

This technology can mean the difference between delayed diagnosis and beginning treatment much sooner, thereby saving lives. Traditional processes can take several days while the MADI-TOF gives results in about 25 minutes.

At present, only bacteria are being identified, but the potential exists to find ways to identify other pathogens in animals. Unknown bacteria are tested and can be added to the database at a future date.

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