The Future of Biology Is 3D
As much as we've seen some impressive one-upmanship in the sequencing tools space this year, two-dimensional information is only going to take us so far in biology.
It’s all about context.
What we see every few months is how new spatial biology tools are taking us through the wall of complexity that we've been bumping against time and again.
This year we featured a number of guests in this space who have been introducing us to spatial technology and the breakthroughs they are having. Today I've listed those shows here in one place.
We've been hearing that spatial tools have been bringing together the long established disciplines of genomics and imaging, that is radiology and histology/pathology. They are also getting the worlds of research and the clinic together in powerful, meaningful ways.
“I’ve seen a lot of revolutions. Spatial biology has the chance to transform life science similar to next gen sequencing, but even more. It’s going to have more ramifications that spread through more disciplines than any of the revolutions I’ve seen in a while.”
That’s Joe Beechem, CSO at NanoString Technologies. In our interview earlier this year Joe told us the story of how he came up with NanoString’s GeoMx spatial instrument. He was at MD Anderson speaking with cancer researchers, including Nobel laureate Jim Allison, when he had a Eureka! moment where he thought, yes, we can do that for you, what he calls infinite plexing. He went back to headquarters in Seattle and began work on what has now changed the course of biology.
Listening to Joe in the interview, I couldn’t help but think how similar it was listening to a NASA scientist on a PBS NOVA show talking about one of the outer planets in the solar system or explaining a spiral galaxy while gazing at those incredible photos they put on the screen. Except spatial biology is sending us the other direction, into the microenvironment of the cell.
Joe says the new biologist is comfortable in this new interdepartmental world “doing a thousand things at once.” And if he or she isn’t, the train is going to pass them by. This was verified by NanoString customers Will Hwang of Harvard Med, who discovered a new kind of cancer cell featured in a landmark paper that made it to the cover of Nature Genetics in August, and Arutha Kulasinghe of University of Queensland, who gave us an idea of where this is all headed.
We also interviewed Akoya Bioscience's CEO Brian McKelligon this year who told us his company started out in the clinic with their first spatial technology, and in fact, it was Akoya who came up with the term "spatial biology." We learned this from the CEO of Vizgen Technologies, Terry Lo, who worked on some of the first spatial technology at Perkin Elmer which was then picked up by Akoya. Terry Lo gets into this history and introduces us to their spatial genomics platform, which is ironic, as he admits that early on, he never thought spatial would be a genomics play.
However it came about, labs such as Dr. Will Hwang's are now popping up around the country specifically devoted to using the new spatial technologies to take discovery and translation to the next level.
What will we see in the year ahead? These scientists are pushing out the frontiers of biology and the boundaries of medicine, and to do so, they must continue to push the tool makers.
"We still have a lot of growth in the spatial domain. There’s a lot to do. We’re just in the beginning," says NanoString’s Joe Beechem.