Bringing on the next wave of spatially resolved transcriptomics

Jiang He, PhD

February 23, 2022

Diseases often originate in highly specific regions or cell types within the body. Why? Because healthy cells are not uniform: there are hundreds of different cell types that display different characteristics, perform different roles, and malfunction in equally diverse ways. But those errors don’t occur in a vacuum — all cells are influenced by their location within a tissue.

As scientists seek to understand the origins of human disease, there is a growing movement to catalog all the cells in the human body while preserving spatial context — a field of study called spatial biology or spatial genomics. In spatial biology, scientists use a combination of molecular profiling and imaging techniques to produce an atlas of the cells and cell types in a tissue. Cells may be cataloged based on their transcriptome, proteome, metabolome, and their metabolic flux within intact tissue samples to preserve the spatial context of the information. Getting the full picture requires a large quantity of high-quality data that has, until recently, been slow to acquire. But now, spatial biology is experiencing a step change, thanks to a new generation of advanced spatial genomics technologies that expand the quantity and quality of information that can be gained from a single experiment.

While spatial genomics tools are not yet common in clinical labs, they likely will be soon. The depth and detail of data that spatial genomics tools can efficiently capture offer countless opportunities for establishing new biomarkers for diagnostic testing. Furthermore, spatial genomics instruments generate nuanced, high-volume results that could expand what is possible through precision medicine. Here, we’ll discuss the science behind an emerging spatial genomics technology, massively multiplexed single-molecule imaging technology, followed by some of its potential clinical applications.