Livia Schiavinato Eberlin

Principal Investigator Baylor College of Medicine

“Welch funding lets us look deeper at the chemistry,” said Livia Schiavinato Eberlin, associate professor in the department of surgery at Baylor College of Medicine. “It can really open our eyes to new possibilities.”

Dr. Eberlin is building on her work in fundamental chemistry to leverage ambient ionization mass spectrometry and large data analysis techniques to better inform clinical decisions.

As an undergraduate in her native Brazil, Dr. Eberlin was exposed to ambient ionization mass spectrometry in the very early stages of its development and she “fell in love” with its possibilities. Ambient mass spectrometry streamlines analysis as it requires much less effort and time to prepare samples, which is a complicated process in traditional mass spec, particularly for biological samples.

She went on to complete a Ph.D. in analytical chemistry at Purdue University and a postdoctoral fellowship at Stanford University in statistical analysis of large data sets. She leverages her background to sort through extensive molecular data sets that she collects using mass spectrometry to pinpoint interesting aspects for further exploration and to inform diagnosis and treatment for patients.

Dr. Eberlin started her independent career at UT Austin, where a Welch grant provided early research support. After five years, she moved to Baylor to be closer to her medical community collaborators in the surgery department. This makes sense, she explained, as the connection between her chemical research and surgery is human tissue. “The pieces of flesh surgeons deal with are the most incredible bottles of molecules you can imagine,” she said.

Her ultimate goal is to apply chemical methodologies to healthcare. Her research team has been working on creating a user-friendly platform from which clinicians can quickly access comprehensive and detailed molecular information to make decisions. What is the disease? Are there subtypes to consider? What is the best treatment? This type of highly sensitive chemical analysis currently is not available in a clinical setting where doctors often make decisions based on what they can see.

For example, her research group has been testing a handheld mass spectrometry-based device they have created, named MasSpec Pen technology, in a variety of cancer surgeries. It helps surgeons precisely distinguish between regions of cancer and normal tissues in vivo, thus improving patient outcomes.

“I am so grateful for Welch support,” Dr. Eberlin said. “It has allowed my lab to focus on the fundamental aspects of chemical analysis. Ambient mass spec is still a relatively new field and it is helping us understand the chemical properties of tissues. Welch lets us take a step back on the analytical approach and understand the more fundamental chemical underpinnings so we can optimize our methods for disease diagnosis based on that deeper understanding of the chemical processes involved.”