The emergence of spatial omics: unveiling the hidden dimensions of biology

In recent years, the field of biology has experienced a remarkable technological breakthrough with the emergence of spatial biology techniques. This exciting discipline combines traditional quantitative molecular biology measurements - like detecting and measuring transcriptomics data in disease tissue - with spatial resolution and visualization. This allows scientists to move beyond simply understanding and comparing which proteins are being transcribed and in what quantities, but now have the ability to see those transcripts visually and locate them in diseased and healthy cells. The result? Scientists can now delve into the intricate organization and interactions of molecules and cells within tissues. With its potential to unveil unprecedented levels of detail, spatial biology has opened new frontiers for understanding biological and pathological processes and to finding new ways to diagnose, stratify and treat disease.

The significance of spatial biology techniques has received notable recognition. In 2021, Nature, one of the leading scientific journals, declared spatial omics as the method of the year, underscoring its transformative potential in advancing biological research. Moreover, this week the World Economic Forum acknowledged spatial biology as one of the top 10 emerging technologies in 2023, highlighting its impact across various sectors, including healthcare and biotechnology.

Source: World Economic Forum. Top 10 Emerging Technologies of 2023.

The development of spatial biology techniques is the result of years of relentless effort at research laboratories in some of the top universities worldwide, including Harvard, Stanford and the Karolinska Institute, beginning in the 2010s.  Recognizing the immense potential of spatial biology, industry players like NanoString, 10X Genomics, Vizgen, and Akoya Biosciences swiftly built upon this work to advance to its development and commercialization. Biotech companies have actively invested in research and development to refine spatial biology techniques - the collaboration between academia and industry has accelerated the translation of spatial biology from the lab bench to practical applications, enabling a broader range of researchers to harness its capabilities for their studies.

Now that spatial omics technologies are in their adolescence, it is time for the research community to take the next step. To unlock the full potential of spatial biology and maximize its research and clinical impact, the availability of comprehensive reference datasets and large disease cohorts is crucial. 

Reference datasets - Reference datasets will serve as invaluable resources for researchers, providing a baseline understanding of tissue organization and molecular patterns across diverse biological systems
Clinical datasets (cohorts) - The generation and use of clinical datasets from large disease cohorts will enhance the relevance of spatial biology to medical practice and patients.

At Owkin we are pioneering this latest phase in the application of these technologies, working in collaboration with spatial omics technology providers and world-leading cancer research hospitals. The recently announced MOSAIC project brings these organizations together to create the largest spatial omics dataset in cancer. 

By generating the MOSAIC dataset together with our collaborators and using our AI expertise to analyze disease tissues at the spatial level, we and our partners hope to unravel some of the complex molecular interactions that underlie critical pathological processes  in cancer. This knowledge can lead to the discovery of novel biomarkers, therapeutic targets, and personalized treatment strategies, injecting new hope into the field of precision medicine with a focus on achieving better outcomes for patients.

As spatial biology continues to evolve, we can expect more of these initiatives to breathe new life into cancer research, revolutionize our understanding of biological systems, and pave the way for innovative advancements in research and clinical applications.

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