Newswise — Three Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center scientists are among the first 45 members selected to join the 10x Genomics Visium Clinical Translational Research Network (CTRN), aimed at advancing translational research in some of the world’s leading health problems, including oncology, immuno-oncology, neuroscience, infectious disease, inflammation and fibrosis, and COVID-19.

They will partner in this new collaborative network to advance spatial gene expression technology and explore immunotherapy in gastrointestinal cancers, including liver and pancreas cancers. They will use single cell and spatial technologies — a new but rapidly advancing field of cancer study — on tumor samples from patients participating in clinical trials to understand the effect immunotherapies have on tumor cell and immune cell populations.

Single cell sequencing technology offers a detailed view of the tumor composition and enables scientists to measure all cell types in the tumor and their function. With the rapid advances in the field, it’s now possible to zoom in on spatial features and identify how those same cells interact with one another without dismantling the tumor samples. This approach can help scientists and clinicians discriminate between treatment resistance built into the tumor and resistance that is acquired during and after treatment.

“Essentially, it gives researchers the ability to reveal and understand the instruction manual for every single cell in the tumor and immune cells and how their distribution in space is driving cancer development and response to immunotherapies,” says Kagohara. The researchers hope to learn why immunotherapy often works well in one patient and not in another. “If we can understand these mechanisms, we can choose therapies better,” she says.

The researchers also expect to uncover biomarkers of response that will guide therapy, from immunotherapies aimed at immune checkpoints that will release restraints on the immune system to the addition of targeted drug therapies that could work in combination to break through cancer’s resistance to treatment.

Jaffee is director, Fertig is associate director, and Kagohara is a member of the new Convergence Institute at the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center. It brings together experts from disciplines throughout The Johns Hopkins University to push the boundaries of collaboration across disciplines, such as astronomy and mathematics, to look at cancer in new ways, advance the understanding of it and ultimately improve treatment options.

“The 10x Genomics Visium Clinical Translational Research Network gives us the opportunity to expand these collaborations to a global scale,” says Fertig. “These technologies and added fields help us understand how tumors respond to therapy in a new way.”

The first 45 members were selected from 185 applications, connecting researchers across 39 global institutions, according to a statement from 10x Genomics. Members of the Visium CTRN have exclusive access to this collaborative, global research community, and specialized support relating to the 10x Genomics Visium platform. Members will also have the opportunity to present at the 10x Genomics CTRN Spatial Summit.

A Johns Hopkins neuroscience team was also selected.