For Breast Cancer Patients, Spatial Biology Drives New Discoveries

Oct 29, 2020

in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month

While there are so many days and months dedicated to cancer, there will always be something special about Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Designating October as a month-long celebration of survivors, caregivers, clinicians, and scientists — as well as a way to honor all those who lost their battles with breast cancer — brought a special focus to this cancer, and by extension, to everyone affected by cancer in general. The remarkable work done to raise awareness of breast cancer has been important to all of us.

Here at Ionpath, Breast Cancer Awareness Month evokes our own personal stories, but it also shines a spotlight on why we are so committed to making our technology available to researchers everywhere. Spatial proteomics — like the larger spatial biology field — is already revealing important new information that will help in developing new drugs, matching drugs to the patients most likely to respond, and more.

While enthusiasm for spatial biology is higher than ever, it wasn’t too long ago that the “spatial” part of the equation was largely overlooked in cancer studies. From DNA sequencing to gene expression to proteomics, cells and samples were mixed together with little regard for their proximity in vivo. It’s only in the past decade that the oncology research community began to embrace the idea that location matters. That was a key shift that has helped explain why some promising biomarkers failed to meet their clinical goals: it’s not just about presence or absence of a marker, but also about where it’s present in the tumor microenvironment, and in which specific cell types it’s found. This concept has been pivotal to the development of new immuno-oncology treatments that have given new hope to countless cancer patients.

The high-level view of this progress shows extraordinary improvement in resolution. At the turn of this century, we could barely determine the genetic sequence of a single person. Within the decade, it had become routine to be able to look at not just any patient’s genome sequence, but also the sequence mutations in a person’s cancer. From there we gained the ability to interrogate gene expression comprehensively, and quickly made the leap to looking at gene expression within individual cells. Today, we can see gene and protein activity in single cells in their native locations, gleaning critical insights from the in situ map of how all of these elements might interact with one another. To offer a resolution analogy, it’s as if we jumped from the earliest days of grainy, black-and-white television to 8K ultra high def screens in just 20 years.

Ionpath’s multiplexed ion beam imaging (MIBI™) platform is the latest development in this incredible technology evolution story. Our spatial proteomics approach delivers true subcellular resolution of the expression of dozens of proteins, offering an unprecedented view of the tumor microenvironment with quantitative phenotype mapping and clinical grade reproducibility. Scientists have already used our technology to make new discoveries in a range of cancers, including various types of breast cancer.

This month, we honor everyone living with or affected by breast cancer. We are committed to helping researchers generate a better view of this and other cancers so that one day outcomes can be better for all patients.

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