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From our partners at AKOYA, an overview of the exciting developments at the newly launched Queensland Spatial Biology Centre

From our partners at AKOYA, an overview of the exciting developments at the newly launched Queensland Spatial Biology Centre

7th Mar 2024

Medieval maps of the world included drawings of fearsome dragons and sea monsters to warn of uncharted territory. These gaps have long since been filled by daring explorers, and what was once unknown, has become familiar.

Visionary researchers and clinicians using powerful spatial biology tools are doing the same for the vast unknown and uncharted territory in tumors, their microenvironments, and chronic diseases. The location, function, and interactions of every cell in a tissue section can now be mapped with unparalleled detail and precision. Bringing clarity to this complexity and identifying patterns will create the foundation for improved diagnoses and treatment.

Among the leading innovators conducting groundbreaking spatial biology studies is the team at the recently launched Queensland Spatial Biology Centre (QSBC) at the Wesley Research Institute in Brisbane Australia. Co-led by clinical director John Fraser and science director Arutha Kulasinghe, the Centre uses Akoya’s PhenoCycler-Fusion spatial biology platform as their core technology to revolutionize the way cancer and other debilitating diseases are diagnosed and treated.

Blazing New Trails in Cell Biology and Disease Research

Using the PhenoCycler-Fusion platform, the QSBC team generates ultrahigh-plex spatial phenotyping data for larger and more complex samples at unprecedented speed. Among their many areas of study, they have clearly defined the value of single-cell ultrahigh-plex spatial phenotyping as a powerful tool for identifying spatial tissue signatures associated with immunotherapy response and resistance.

“Akoya’s spatial biology platform gives us a level of insight never before attainable,” said Professor Fraser. “The technology allows us to see how each cell fits in with its neighboring cells, and how various treatments can impact the interaction between those cells for better or worse. We have just jumped light years ahead in terms of diagnosing and observing which treatments will or won’t work.”

The QSBC initiative is led by the Wesley Research Institute in conjunction with other local medical and research organizations. Among the benefits of this network is access to an extensive biobank of curated patient tissue samples that are amenable to deeper tissue and cellular annotation using spatial biology.

“What this technology allows us to do is develop atlases of tissue, where we can understand how every cell is positioned and interacts with its neighbor,” said Dr. Kulasinghe. “In the context of cancer, we can understand how cells are engaging and influencing local immune cells and using that information, develop therapies to better treat that specific tumor. We’re finding that in patients that do well with certain therapies, there are unique cellular neighborhoods next to each other.”

Seeing Beyond the Horizon of What’s Possible Through Collaboration

Mapping Uncharted Territory in Cancer and Chronic Diseases

Not only is the QSBC team bringing clarity to the complexity of biology and disease states, they are also advancing spatial biology into new territory and convening multidisciplinary stakeholders.

“When initiatives such as the QSBC focus on a particular methodology such as spatial biology, it tells you that the technology is a pillar in the set of analytical tools that are essential for tissue research,” noted Niro Ramachandran, PhD, Akoya’s Chief Business Officer. “What’s particularly impressive about the QSBC is how they bring together researchers, pathologists, and clinicians which is critical to advancing the field and adds to Akoya’s vision of where the technology can go in the future.”

Researchers are comfortable with big data, but are not always familiar with looking at tissue images and understanding the complexity. In contrast, pathologists are used to looking at tissue images and making assessments, but do not typically work with big data sets. Spatial biology – and the QSBC – brings these communities together.

“Cross-functionality and cross discipline collaboration is a cornerstone of the QSBC”, said Dr. Ramachandran. Pathologists can look at tissue samples, but then rely on the center to provide expertise around big data analysis. Similarly, researchers with big data sets can leverage the expertise of the QSBC team to help them understand how that data translates into what’s happening in the tissue. That’s why the QSBC is phenomenal, and I hope there will be more centers that follow their vision.”

The team at the QSBC not only facilitates the application of spatial biology, they’re also pushing the technology beyond its current applications into new areas no one has even thought about.

“Arutha and his team really understand the power of spatial analysis and our collaboration is invaluable as we learn where they want to go with the technology, what will be most impactful, and how we can help get them there,” said Dr. Ramachandran. “They are focused on a variety of different diseases, and they collaborate with academic institutions and biopharmaceutical companies. That gives us a broad view of all the different places where spatial biology can be applied, the biological scenarios where there’s no solution other than spatial analysis, and provides inspiration for the continued evolution of our technology.”

Carving Out a New Way from Point A to Point B

Historically, the map for adoption of new capabilities and technologies showed a straight line – it started in the research setting and advanced into translational research and then into the clinical space. Adoption of spatial biology has proven to be anything but linear. It is unique in that there are needs in discovery, translational research, and the clinical setting all at the same time, each with different drivers and applications.

“This dynamic is reflected in what we are doing here at Akoya and the activities at the QSBC,” said Dr. Ramachandran. “We are facilitating the work of researchers and crossing over into clinical applications as well. The initiatives and focus of the QSBC embody what’s unique about spatial biology – the fact that this technology can simultaneously have an impact today in basic research and influence how we think about patients and patient care. We don’t have to wait for a linear evolution for technology adoption and impact.”

When it comes to complex biology and diseases, the amount of uncharted territory is getting progressively smaller. Visionary explorers like those at the QSBC are using spatial biology to fill the gaps in our understanding and map a course towards better patient outcomes.

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[image credit QSBC}

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