How spatial omics technologies are revolutionizing cancer research

Duration:5 mins

Tags: AI / Spatial Omics


Date:August 18th, 2022


How spatial omics technologies are revolutionizing cancer research

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We asked Professor Olivier Elemento, Director of the Englander Institute for Precision Medicine at Weill Cornell Medicine, what excites him about spatial omics and why it is poised to deliver major scientific breakthroughs in the coming years.

What are spatial omics technologies and how do they complement other technologies in cancer research?

The idea of spatial transcriptomics is that we take very thin tissue sections, we can sequence thousands of genes at different locations, and so we understand the expression of genes in the context of the tissue.

Spatial omics complements other technologies such as RNAseq or proteomics in multiple ways. One, it preserves the architecture of the tissue, and two, it’s single cell resolution, so we can essentially watch the different cells as they coexist within tissue as they interact with each other.

How are spatial omics technologies going to impact cancer research in the next five to 10 years?

I think the potential for breakthroughs from spatial omics is very high. I think for me the main potential breakthrough is the ability to understand tumor cells in their context and understand the interactions of tumor cells and other types of non-tumor cells around the tumor cells.

We know now that those interactions are very important, there are some specific treatments – like immunotherapies – that are entirely based on the ability to target not the tumor cells directly, but the immune cells. And we think that there is a tremendous amount of potential for finding novel targets for immunotherapies, finding novel ways to treat cancer by understanding what else to target what are the non-tumor cells that could potentially be targeted to eventually kill the tumor cells.

I think that we’re at the infancy when it comes to understanding the complexity of cancer, and spatial omics is going to give us maps of disease at single cell resolution that will let us understand these important interactions between different subtypes and find novel targets for therapy discovery.

How is the convergence of AI and spatial omics going to spark the next revolution of cancer research?

So, now is the right time to be in the field because all these technologies such as spatial omics are becoming very mature. It used to be that you couldn’t analyse tissue at single cell resolution in a native context of a cancer because the technologies were not mature.

But now with technologies such as spatial omics, technologies such as AI – deep neural networks that can analyse large amounts of data – and powerful computers, you can put everything together and build these very complex models that take patient samples as input and produce a potential target as output.

For researchers it’s going to create a tremendous amount of new data that doesn’t exist now, and will fuel the discovery of novel targets. For clinicians, it will eventually translate into new drugs that, will be effective in different types of patients. And for patients down the line obviously there’s potential for new therapies that are quite effective in the context of several types of cancers that are very hard to treat right now.

The hope is that this kind of effort is going to give rise to new understanding of cancer and discovery of novel treatments and everybody is going to benefit.