If it hadn't been for the lure of scientific discovery, Maureen Kane would likely be training a group of collegiate athletes for a track and field competition.
Instead, the former track star is at the University of Maryland's School of Pharmacy Mass Spectrometry Center, training academic athletes on different instruments where the competition is to achieve scientific breakthroughs.
While the workload for her campus clients is varied, Dr. Kane notes that "We spend quite a bit of time doing biomarker discovery and quantification. That’s one of our main thrusts. The biomarker work we’ve done on the Waters SYNAPT mass spectrometry system has been very productive, and is enabling us to develop quantitative assays from our biomarker discovery hits in support of therapeutic development programs -- trying to find readouts for therapeutic efficacy, disease state, and status of damage."
The kind of biomarker research Dr. Kane is doing has only been made possible recently, due to advances in analytical technology.
"The whole process now is pretty efficient," noted Kane. "This is where the sampling rate of mass spectrometers has been a tremendous help especially using the Waters MSE technology," said Kane. "The ability to get both your profile information and all your fragmentation in a single run has been phenomenal for us."
Another of those technology advancements is helping Dr. Kane layer on another dimension of information for her biomarker analyses.
"The resolving power of MS has improved tremendously," added Dr. Kane, “with Waters changing the game by incorporating ion mobility separations technology into its SYNAPT mass spectrometers of which we have two."
Dr. Kane is working on a number of research projects that span drug development, cancer and immune disorders.
"One of the groups I work with is a consortium that studies radiation-induced damage," explained Dr. Kane, referring to her work with the Medical Countermeasures Against Radiological Threat (MCART) Consortium. "The radiation studies relate to the development of therapeutic countermeasures for people who have either accidental or intentional radiation exposure. Our goal in this project is to identify biomarkers that inform on radiation injury and on drug efficacy. These biomarkers play an important role in the drug approval process under the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Animal Rule. Additionally, the biomarkers from these studies will be useful to a number of our other collaborators who are investigating cancer, radiation therapy side effects, fibrosis, inflammation, and HIV.”
It all seems a long way from where Dr. Kane started out.
A native of upstate New York, Maureen Kane was "a normal kid" who excelled at school and athletics.
"Growing up, I ran competitively and I competed collegiately in running as well," she said. "That was a big part of my life. And when you compare the discipline it takes to carry out that kind of training to how to prepare yourself in science, I think there are many parallels. So I learned much from sport that I’ve carried over into my activities in science."
Competitive athletics eventually became recreational athletics.
"I was always interested in science, always interested in how things work," said Dr. Kane. "I got training, undergrad in chemistry, and graduate degree in analytical chemistry. And I became interested in using the analytical tools I knew about to solve problems that help people."
Dr. Kane embraces the challenges of research the same way she used to approach a collegiate track and field event.
"The academic freedom that this environment allows you is one of the things that attracted me to it," she said. "What gets me up in the morning is that it’s kind of like a puzzle. Seeing all the moving pieces of the puzzle you’re trying to solve, and then trying to collect your data and make sense of it all is a great challenge."