old biospecimens

Going Beyond Time Barriers: Arutha Kulasinghe on the Power of New Spatial Biology Tools

Arutha Kulasinghe was pumped for the AGBT (Advances in Genome Biology and Technology) Conference this year. He is the Principal Investigator for the Clinical-oMx Lab at the University of Queensland. Dr. Kulasinghe has pioneered spatial transcriptomics using digital spatial profiling approaches in the Asia-Pacific region, contributing to world-first studies for lung, head, and neck cancer and COVID-19. Not gathering last year due to the pandemic, the AGBT conference has became a kind of revival for genome biologists. This year saw an explosion in spatial programming and presentations.

“I almost thought the conference needed to be rebranded as Spatial AGBT.”

Arutha is part of a new generation of biologists who have come of age with spatial tools as part of their biology tool kit. He joins us today to share his experience at the AGBT conference and give his take on the latest in the spatial arena.

The interview takes us into three areas today: the impact of the new tools on pure discovery, Arutha’s COVID paper out last March, and the excitement around the ability of spatial tools to look at old samples.

In the COVID study, Arutha’s group identified a biomarker that was predictive of severe disease. His group is already commercializing the assay with a biotech company. This is a stunning timeline, going from pure discovery to commercialization so quickly, and could only happen with spatial tools.

“It shows you how you’re able to go from discovery using tissue-based approaches to validation of those markers in a peripheral sample, and then develop a blood assay for that,” says Arutha.

The ability of the new tools to look at historical FFPE tissue samples is opening up a new world for researchers. Arutha talks today of a study looking at Spanish flu samples from a century ago and also of not needing to create new cohorts because samples are already there.

We finish up with a look ahead into where Arutha thinks the field is going. He sees H&E stains getting down to the single pixel resolution.