Assistant Professor

Arash Zarrine-Afsar

PhD, University of Toronto

Princess Margaret Cancer Research Tower
101 College St, Room 7-207, Toronto, Ontario Canada M5G 1L7
Research Interests
Biomedical Imaging, Cancer Diagnosis and Therapy, Image-Guided Therapy and Device Development

At a Glance

  • The long-term objectives of my research program are to advance the performance in terms of accuracy, reliability, robustness, analysis speed, and sensitivity of Mass Spectrometry Imaging (MSI), which will help the technology become the core of new devices and applications to solve problems in the health care space. We have a multifaceted “methods”, “applications”, and “device” development program to achieve this goal. In particular, we are interested in the utility of MSI as a rapid pathology tool to provide intraoperative surgical guidance. Industrial collaborations are an integral part of our activities, and we work very closely with clinicians as the end users of MSI technology.
  • To further expand the applications domain of MSI in clinical settings, the discovery of disease specific MS profiles for human cancers and cancer site heterogeneity is an integral component of our research activities.  

Short Biography

Arash Zarrine-Afsar is trained (Canada and Switzerland) as a physical biochemist with interest in the development of various spectroscopic and spectrometric methods to understand the dynamics of biological systems, in particular transition to the disease state. He is currently Principal Investigator at University Health Network and leads a group of researchers focused on development of rapid diagnostic methods using mass spectrometry. He holds a position at the rank of Assistant Professor with the Department of Surgery and Graduate Department of Medical Biophysics at University of Toronto’s Faculty of Medicine. The research in his laboratory over the past 5 years has further matured Picosecond Infrared Laser Mass Spectrometry (PIRL-MS) as a rapid pathology determination tool where 10-second laser sampling of tissue molecular content has allowed differentiation of cancer types and subtypes faster than currently possible in the standard of care. The research in the Zarrine-Afsar group is supported by PMH Foundation, CCS, CIHR and NSERC. 

Research Synopsis

In broad terms, the research in the Zarrine-Afsar group is focused on developing enabling sensing technologies based on Mass Spectrometry (MS) to facilitate clinical decision making at the bedside. In particular, the development of novel molecular pathology determination methods with a special focus on neuro-oncology & pediatric brain cancers using a hand held Picosecond InfraRed Laser (PIRL) desorption probe for tumour type or subtype identification based on real time, 10-second mass spectrometry (MS) analysis of the laser extracted tumour lipids and small molecule metabolites is being investigated. Current progress made enabled rapid determination of prognostically important molecular subgroups of pediatric medulloblastoma (MB) tumours on intrasurgical timescales with only 10-seconds of sampling and total analysis time, with a correct subgroup affiliation determination rate of ~98%.

A translational method & device development program based on the integration, with surgical navigation platforms, of the hand-held PIRL-MS probe are being pursued that will lead to the concept of ‘molecularly guided’ surgeries based on spatially encoded mass spectrometry pathology results for a personalized approach to cancer resection that is aimed to reduce neurologic morbidity in low risk patients. The utility of the developed sampling probe that operates on the basis of Serially Mapping Ablated Residues from Tissue (SMART) is being expanded to other cancers through parallel developments of PIRL-MS signature libraries as well as real time, higher-order data and multivariate statistical analysis methods augmented with machine learning and artificial intelligence platforms.

The research in the Zarrine-Afsar group is supported by PMH Foundation, CCS, CIHR and NSERC.

Recent Publications

(Trainees are marked with asterisk (*)

Journal Articles

  1. Katz L*, Tata A, Woolman M*, Zarrine-Afsar A (2021). Lipid Profiling in Cancer Diagnosis with Hand-Held Ambient Mass Spectrometry Probes: Addressing the Late-Stage Performance Concerns. Metabolites 11(10), 660-681 [IF 4.7] Senior Responsible Author.
  2. Woolman M*, Katz L*, Tata A, Basu SS, Zarrine-Afsar A (2021). Breaking through the barrier: Regulatory considerations relevant to ambient mass spectrometry at the bedside. Clinics in Laboratory Medicine. 41(2):221-246. [IF 2.6]. Senior Responsible Author.
  3. Woolman M*, Katz L*, Gopinath G*, Kiyota T, Kuzan-Fischer CM*, Ferry I*, Zaidi M, Peters K*, Aman A, McKee T, Fu F, Amara-Belgadi S*, Daniels C, Wouters BG, Rutka JT, Ginsberg HJ, McIntosh C, Zarrine-Afsar A (2021). Mass spectrometry imaging reveals a gradient of cancer-like metabolic states in the vicinity of cancer not seen in morphometric margins from microscopy. Anal Chem. 93(10):4408-4416.  [IF 6.9]. Senior Responsible Author.
  4. Katz L*, Woolman M*, Tata A, Zarrine-Afsar A (2021). Potential impact of tissue molecular heterogeneity on ambient mass spectrometry profiles: a note of caution in choosing the right disease model. Anal. Bioanal. Chem. 413(10):2655-2664. [IF 3.6]. Senior Responsible Author
  5. Woolman W*, Qiu J, Kuzan-Fischer CM*, Ferry I*, Dara D*, Katz L*, Daud F*, Wu M, Ventura M, Bernards N, Chan H, Fricke I, Zaidi M, Wouters BG, Rutka JT, Das S, Irish J, Weersink R, Ginsberg HJ, Jaffray DA, Zarrine-Afsar A (2020). In situ tissue pathology from spatially encoded mass spectrometry classifiers visualized in real time through augmented reality. Chem. Sci. 11, 8723-8735. [IF 9.3]. Senior Responsible Author
  6. Katz L*, Woolman M*, Talbot F*, Amara-Belgadi S*, Wu M, Tortorella S, Das S, Ginsberg HJ, Zarrine-Afsar A (2020). Dual Laser and desorption electrospray ionization mass spectrometry imaging using the same interface. Anal Chem. 92(9):6349-6357. [IF 6.2]. Senior Responsible Author
  7. Woolman M*, Kuzan-Fischer CM*, Ferry I*, Kiyota T, Luu B, Wu M, Munoz DG, Das S, Aman A, Taylor MD, Rutka JT, Ginsberg HJ, Zarrine-Afsar A (2019). Picosecond infrared laser desorption mass spectrometry identifies medulloblastoma subgroups on intrasurgical timescales. Cancer Research 79(9):2426-2434 [IF 9.2]. Senior Responsible Author
  8. Woolman M*, Zarrine-Afsar A (2018). Platforms for Rapid Cancer Characterization by Ambient Mass Spectrometry: Advancements, Challenges and Opportunities for Improvement Towards Intrasurgical Use. Analyst. 143(12): 2717-2722. [IF 4.1]. Senior Responsible Author
  9. Woolman M*, Tata A*, Dara M*, Meens J, D’Arcangelo E, Perez CJ, Saiyara Prova S, Bluemke E*, Ginsberg H, Ifa D, McGuigan A, Ailles L and Zarrine-Afsar A(2017). Rapid Determination of Tumour Stroma Ratio in Squamous Cell Carcinomas with Desorption ElectroSpray Ionization Mass Spectrometry (DESI-MS): A Proof-Of-Concept Demonstration. Analyst. 142(17): 3250-3260. [IF 4.1]. Senior Responsible Author
  10. Woolman M*, Ferry I*, Kuzan-Fischer C*, Wu M, Zou J*, Kiyota T, Isik S, Dara D*, Aman A, Das S, Taylor MD, Rutka JD, Ginsberg HJ, Zarrine-Afsar A(2017).Rapid Determination of Medulloblastoma Subgroup Affiliation with Mass Spectrometry Using a Handheld Picosecond InfraRed Laser Desorption Probe. Chemical Science 8: 6508-6519 [IF 9.2]. Senior Responsible Author
  11. Woolman M*, Gribble A, Bluemke E*, Zou J*, Ventura M, Bernards N, Wu M, Ginsberg H, Das S, Vitkin A, Zarrine-Afsar A (2017). Optimized Mass Spectrometry Analysis Workflow with Polarimetric Guidance for ex vivo and in situ Sampling of Biological Tissues. Sci Reports. 7(1):468-480. [IF 5.2]. Senior Responsible Author
  12. Bilkey J, Tata A*, McKee T, Porcari A, Bluemke E*, Woolman M*, Ventura M, Eberlin M, Zarrine-Afsar A(2016). Variations in the Abundance of Lipid Biomarker Ions in Mass Spectrometry Images Correlate to Tissue Density. Anal Chem. 88 (24):12099–12107  [IF 5.6]. Senior Responsible Author
  13. Tata A*, Woolman M*, Ventura M, Bernards N, Ganguly M, Gribble A, Shrestha B, Bluemke E*, Ginsberg H, Vitkin A , Zheng J, Zarrine-Afsar A (2016). Rapid Detection of Necrosis in Breast Cancer with Desorption ElectroSpray Ionization Mass Spectrometry. Sci Reports. 6: 35374-353784 [IF 5.2]. Senior Responsible Author
  14. Woolman M*, Tata A*, Bluemke E*, Dara D*, Ginsberg H, Zarrine-Afsar A (2016). An Assessment of the Utility of Tissue Smears in Rapid Cancer Profiling with Desorption Electrospray Ionization Mass Spectrometry (DESI-MS) J Am Soc Mass Spectrom. 28(1):145-153. [IF 3.1]. Senior Responsible Author
  15. Tata A*, Gribble A, Ventura M, Ganguly M, Bluemke E*, Ginsberg H, Jaffray D, Ifa D, Vitkin A, Zarrine-Afsar A(2016). Wide-field Tissue Polarimetry Allows Efficient Localized Mass Spectrometry Imaging of Biological Tissues. Chemical Science. 7: 2162-2169. [IF 9.2]. Senior Responsible Author 
  16. Zou J*, Talbot F*, Tata A*, Ermini L, Franjic K, Ventura M, Zheng J, Ginsberg H, Post M, Ifa DR, Jaffray DA, Miller RJD, Zarrine-Afsar A (2015). Ambient Mass Spectrometry Imaging with Picosecond InfraRed Laser Ablation ElectroSpray Ionization (PIR-LAESI). Anal Chem. 87(24):1 2071-9. [IF 5.6]. Senior Responsible Author
  17. Tata A*, Zheng J, Ginsberg H, Jaffray DA, Ifa D and Zarrine-Afsar A (2015). Contrast Agent Mass Spectrometry Imaging Reveals Tumour Heterogeneity. Anal Chem 87(15): 7683-9. [IF 5.6]. Senior Responsible Author 
  18. Czar MF, Zosel F, König I, Nettels D, Wunderlich B, Schuler B, Zarrine-Afsar A, Jockusch RA (2015). Gas-Phase FRET Efficiency Measurements To Probe the Conformation of Mass-Selected Proteins. Anal Chem. 87(15): 7559-65. [IF 5.6]. Senior Responsible Author 

Graduate Students

Alexa Fiorante
Lauren Katz
Michael Woolman