The LAESI instrument works like this: A laser pulse strikes the biological sample, creating an aerosol from the sample. Charged particles come from another direction and hit the aerosol. The particles are then steered into an ion trap and read by a mass spectrometer -- an instrument that analyzes compounds.
Many research labs already have mass spectrometers.
"We're not coming in and saying, 'You have to throw away everything you have,'" Turner said. "They can continue working with the mass spectrometer they already have."
Instruments now used to analyze biological samples require researchers to grind up the material before it's examined. The LAESI technology eliminates that step.
"There's no sample preparation," Turner said. "You just lock and load."
The LAESI instrument, assembled at an engineering company in Alexandria, Va., comes with rollers attached, so it can be wheeled around a lab.
"Someday this could be in a backpack," Turner said. "You could take it in the field and do your report there."
In addition to selling the LAESI machines, Proteawill use the instrument to analyze biological samples that customers send to the lab. The biotech firm also plans to collaborate on research projects with other companies and possibly federal agencies.
Protea has 43 workers in Morgantown, with a plan to create another 160 jobs by 2013.
Turner and West Virginia University scientists started Protea in 2001. The company was WVU's first spin-off biotech firm.
The West Virginia Jobs Investment Trust, the state's leading venture capital firm, has invested $1.7 million in Protea to help the company complete the development of the LAESI technology.
In July, the state Economic Development Authority approved a $900,000 low-interest loan that Protea used to purchase mass spectrometers.
Protea operates out of a facility near WVU's School of Medicine in Morgantown. Seventy percent of Protea's stockholders live in West Virginia.
Reach Eric Eyre at erice...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-4869.