Five Things We Learned from an xMAP® Power User

DKFZ’s Tim Waterboer has published more xMAP papers than any other user

Five Things We Learned from an xMAP® Power User

At the fourth annual xMAP® Connect user group meeting held in Amsterdam late last year, we had the good fortune of sitting down with Tim Waterboer, PhD, leader of the Infections and Cancer Epidemiology Group at DKFZ, the German Cancer Research Center. Waterboer has the distinction of publishing more papers citing xMAP Technology than any other user, so we were eager to learn about his work. His lab, which uses xMAP for a multiplex serology assay designed to detect signs of long-ago infections, tests about 100,000 samples each year from a portfolio of 500 different antigens. Here are five surprising highlights from our chat.

  1. Infection history is like a fingerprint
    Waterboer’s team uses multiplex serology testing to generate what they call serological fingerprints. “It’s a very individual signature of infection exposure,” he says. “Antibodies tell us about the person’s history, the cumulative exposure a person has had, long after the acute infection is gone.” He believes this information will feed into the delivery of personalized medicine by offering insight into a person’s risk of developing diseases caused by chronic infection.
  2. Infections cause more cancer than you think
    According to Waterboer, infections are the third leading cause of cancer overall, behind tobacco exposure and obesity and other dietary factors. “There is too little public awareness” of the link between infectious disease and cancer, he says. “It’s important for people to know that you can prevent cancer through vaccination.” Figuring out which infections are associated with which forms of cancer requires a deep dive into those serological fingerprints, particularly because it’s usually the long-ago infections that eventually lead to cancer. “If we ask what cancer can be caused by an infection, then usually we have to go back 10, 20, or 30 years in time to find the answer,” he adds.
  3. Even high-capacity labs choose manual pipettes
    Though Waterboer’s team runs 100,000 samples a year through multiplex serology testing, they still pipette each and every sample with a single-channel pipette. Serum is notoriously difficult to handle, and Waterboer’s lab faces the added challenge of working with samples sent in from all over the world, processed with many different methods and in various states of quality. For optimal results, they avoid automation for this step and stick with the tried-and-true manual approach.
  4. Multiplexing pairs well with microarrays
    Waterboer turned to multiplexing technology some 15 years ago when he realized that the protein microarrays he was using at the time lacked the necessary sample throughput. Today, though, his lab has embraced arrays once more, this time choosing whole proteome microarrays to perform biomarker discovery in bacteria. These results inform the selection of antibody panels the team uses next to study potential biomarkers across a lot more samples with the higher throughput of multiplexing technology.
  5. Epidemiology sneaked up on him
    Though he runs an epidemiology group now, Waterboer started his multiplexing efforts in basic research. “When I developed the multiplex serology system, I had nothing about epidemiology in my mind,” he recalls. It was the epidemiologists who approached him after realizing that the small sample volumes and high-throughput capacity involved in the multiplex workflow were so well suited to that field. “To my surprise, I liked it very much,” he says. Since then, his lab has expanded into translational applications and public health research as well.

Read more about Waterboer’s multiplex serology method:


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