1977 was a memorable year for many reasons – the first Apple II computers went on sale, the first MRI Scanner was tested, and for many the stand out event was the release of the first Star Wars movie. What you may not know is that this was also the year that MicroCal was founded by Dr. John F. Brandts. 38 years on, MicroCal has joined the Malvern family and is on the verge of launching a new range, PEAQ-ITC. But more on that later….
Now John was an enterprising man, who started MicroCal from his basement. He enlisted the help of a local jeweler to make the first prototype cells – platinum cells with gold solder. Platinum was quite pricey, at $800 per ounce, for the entrepreneur who was father to six children! Thanks to his hard work and the support of his family – including daughter Melanie who acted as a model in the first marketing photos (see below ) – MicroCal thrived and the company moved into a proper office in the 1980s.
So what was the first MicroCal instrument? It was the MC-1, a scanning calorimeter which was welcomed by the market as it allowed researchers to work with concentrations below 1 mg/mL; significant decrease in the amount of material required to perform a measurement. This has been a common theme in the development of new products– researchers over the years have less and less sample to spare, so MicroCal has worked on this area with each new instrument.
It was ten years later that MicroCal was the first to market with a titration calorimeter, the Omega, which allowed researchers to study the interaction of molecules. The Omega introduced the study of binding through the most direct source…heat. This reliable instrument carried the company through to the nineties, the decade of grunge, rave, and sadly, the first of the Star Wars prequels.
In the mid-1990s, MicroCal’s latest innovation, the VP series was released. These instruments eliminated the need for external water baths and introduced the use of electronic heating and cooling (the Peltier effect). The VP-ITC was in particular praised for being easy to use with precise injection volumes.
Another major step in the 2000s was automation. The release of the VP-ITC auto, along with the VP Capillary DSC (also automated), allowed unattended operation of the instruments, addressing the needs of busy research labs. This was followed just a couple of years later, in the 30th anniversary year, with the release of the iTC200, the most sensitive to date, reducing volume requirements 7-fold and concentration requirements 2-5 times. The instrument was also faster, allowing complete titrations to be performed in a matter of minutes.
Such is the nature of research that user needs are constantly evolving, and as a company we work hard to make sure we keep up. From working closely with researchers in the lab we know that there are more issues to be addressed and an ever-growing wish list for your ideal instrument.
Some of the issues we know exist on the experimental side are associated with:
- the need to reliably measure low heat values while maintaining beneficial S/N ratio and consistently high performance.
- the need to meet high performance requirements even in multi-user environment and when samples are precious or low concentrations are required.
- the challenging experimental design especially for competition titrations and binding interactions other than 1:1.
And the key issues we hear about with application of ITC technology are:
- broad affinity range that needs to be addressed for characterization of binding interactions spanning from low millimolar to subnanomolar KD range.
- the need to accurately and reliably rank, and characterize, large number of low-molecular weight (LMW) ligands based on affinity and energetics of interaction although accurate concentrations of the reacting species are not always known.
- the need to address complex binding mechanisms. Although majority of biomolecular interactions are of 1:1 mode, in certain research areas and applications complex modes of interactions are frequently encountered.
Since MicroCal joined the Malvern Instruments family in July last year, we have refocused on nurturing and growing relationships that have been so important to the success of the company – those with customers, partners & suppliers. We’ve been getting closer to the data, closer to the science and we hope to deliver more world-class instruments that you can rely on.
The good news is that we have made major strides in tackling the issues that we’ve been hearing about and hope to make your lab life easier with the newest branch of the Malvern MicroCal family – the PEAQ-ITC range. So please join us at the online launch event to be the first to hear about these exciting developments, and to see if we can tick the boxes on your ITC wish list.
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