We spoke with Margaret Hoang, Associate Director of Research at NanoString about how spatially resolved molecular profiling (aka spatial omics) technologies work
What are spatial omics technologies?
Spatial omics is a group of technologies that quantitate RNA or protein expression in a spatial context, in tissues or cells.
If we're going to look into the future, spatial omics allows to gain insights into how the human body works - like the Google maps of the human body - and to be able to measure and quantitate the activity of cells in their natural context.
How do spatial technologies work?
The way these technologies work, it is based on traditional, in situ methods such as in-situ hybridization for RNA or immuno-histo chemistry for protein, but done in a fashion such that you can measure a lot of proteins or a lot of RNAs at the same time.
At the back-end, spatial omics works in two different buckets: the first is by sequencing such as at NanoString we have our GeoMx platform that uses a readout of sequencing barcodes to tell you the analytes that are on and off in the different cells; the second - like in our COSmx platform - uses an imaging readout based on fluorescence and microscopy, which tells you the activity of the RNA or proteins in that in-situ context.
How do spatial omics technologies integrate with other modalities?
Spatial omics is very exciting because it provides a lot of opportunity for technology development and integration of new cutting-edge data modalities with existing ones.
The best example is single-cell RNA sequencing, which tells you what type of cells are in a tissue, but is done by dissociating all the cells and measuring their RNA expression. This is nicely complemented by spatial techniques, which can tell you where that cell type is in the tissue, and those together are kind of a “what” and a “where” complement.
What does the future hold for spatial omics technologies?
Spatial omics brings up new ideas and new opportunities and new questions that the community can develop upon. The next five to ten years will be really exciting - a lot of emerging technologies are just coming online and where I see it going is automation, standardization, ease of use, and enabling researchers to answer their spatial questions in a fast and easy fashion.