Understanding the tumor microenvironment with unprecedented granularity
We spoke with Prof Miriam Merad, Director of the Precision Immunology Institute at Mount Sinai and chairwoman of Owkin’s scientific advisory board, about the impact of building MOSAIC, the world’s largest spatial omics atlas in cancer.
Why is it important to dissect and understand the tumour microenvironment and tumor-immune cell-cell interactions?
Every cancer is a complex ecosystem. It consists of cancer cells, blood vessels that feed the cancer cells, and nerves that are also potentially contributing to the functionality of cancer cells. And then there are cells of our immune system that are trying to fight the cancer cells.
Most cancer biologists have been focusing on the cancer cells to identify treatments. Yet, cancer cells are very dysregulated and therefore it’s very difficult to predict how they are going to react and how they are going to evolve.
However, the support system that cancer cells are using to progress is not disrupted. It responds to predictable cues. If we learn how to really harness that microenvironment and turn it against cancer cells, big progress is going to be made. New cancer treatments need to really take into account cancer cells in their microenvironment. That's the future of medical oncology.
How will MOSAIC help us harness unprecedented knowledge about the tumor microenvironment?
The MOSAIC program’s goal is to really understand the complexity of the tumor microenvironment with unprecedented granularity. The idea is that by understanding how these different cellular compartments interact, we will be able to unravel extraordinary knowledge that we will use to develop novel therapies.
By understanding the molecular program of cells that are near each other, we will be able to understand the processes that are really driving cancer progression, and potentially cancer response.
MOSAIC is going to contribute to generating a dataset that I believe will be really illuminating in terms of cancer biology knowledge. I think that the scale at which MOSAIC is approaching spatial mapping is unprecedented. This idea that we are going to learn about the spatial distribution of all the different cellular programs on thousands of cancer patients is, I think, at an unprecedented scale, and super exciting.