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Raising Our Glass to Innovation: An AGBT 2022 Recap

When you hear “Orlando Florida” you probably picture Universal Studios, Walt Disney World, or kicking back in a lawn chair under some palm trees with a cold drink. But what about showcasing scientific advancement?

After quite some time of virtual conferences and gatherings, reintegration into in-person events is once again, albeit slowly, becoming a reality. The Advances in Genome Biology and Technology (AGBT) conference, however, was not without some setbacks. Typically kicking off in February, the 2022 AGBT conference was delayed and began on June 6th in Orlando.

For the unfamiliar, the AGBT general meeting is a flagship event that brings together the premier leaders of the genomics community, including heads of laboratories, institutions, business, and financial analysists. Each year, significant scientific advances are announced and showcased, scientific and industrial partnerships are created, and notable investments and acquisitions are made. New cutting-edge technologies and game-changing business relationships draw ample interest from business and science enthusiasts alike.

Akoya had an outstanding experience at AGBT, and we were proud to take part and make some waves at the meeting with the introduction of our novel spatial multiomic solution. We look forward to continuing our pursuit of innovation and to that we raise our glass!

Revealing our novel spatial multiomic solution

Akoya had no problem following script by embarking on a very ambitious goal and delivering results at AGBT. That goal? Unveiling a novel RNA chemistry for the PhenoCycler-Fusion system that can be run simultaneously with Akoya’s proven proteomic solution culminating in whole-slide multiomic datasets.

Dr. Julia Kennedy-Darling, Senior Director of Research and Development at Akoya, presenting the novel multiomic capabilities of the PhenoCycler-Fusion system to a standing room only crowd.

For the unveiling, Dr. Niro Ramachandran, Chief Business Officer, and Dr. Julia Kennedy-Darling, Senior Director of Research and Development explained the tireless efforts of our R&D team to produce a solution for measuring both RNA and protein within the same tissue section and create opportunities to discover key immune infiltrating tumor regions using both analytes. We call it 1+1 spatial.

The idea of 1 + 1 spatial is a reference to the age-old expression “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts”. The power of protein and the power of RNA across whole slides with single-cell resolution provides more insight than either assay could individually. Combined, they provide a holistic perspective capable of capturing a new level of nuanced interaction.

There is so much to explore with this new capability, but what we have seen so far has been extremely exciting. As we showed at AGBT, we can now cluster and annotate cells based on shared RNA and protein expression and see more defined boundaries between tumor and epithelial regions and additional granularity of immune cell infiltrates at the lower end of the tissue. We can also look at the tissue maps based on annotated cells across samples (protein alone, RNA alone, and multiomic sample). In some tissue regions, we were able to see the same cell types and expression, and in others, visualize tumor and connective tissue optimally resolved using the multiomic panel based on the particular targets used.

A zoomed in image of a tertiary lymphoid structure from a head and neck cancer tissue. The upper left image is highlighting protein markers, the upper right image is the same tissue region with only RNA targets and the bottom image is the combined multiomic view.

A sweet suite

Another distinctive feature at AGBT is the obvious lack of “booths” and exhibit halls, rather, these “booths” are conference rooms converted into hospitality suites. The suites offered quite an upgrade, where visitors enjoyed plush couches and seating, a bar, neon lights, all creating a lounge-like vibe. Those who visited our suite got to kick back and enjoy talks given by Dr. Nadav Yayon, a postdoctoral researcher out of the Wellcome Sanger Institute, in Cambridge, UK and the European Molecular Biology Laboratory and European Bioinformatics Institute, and Dr. Oliver Braubach, Director of applications at Akoya.

Dr. Yayon presented data on Akoya‘s novel RNA multiplex workflow which was used to measure RNA targets with a 104-plex panel simultaneously across 30 punch biopsies of 15 different tissue types. These data were then integrated using Cell X Gene matrices to Python-based single-cell objects, fully compatible with normalization and downstream analysis using available, as well as newly developed spatial analysis packages. He identified robust and distinct tissue cellular compartments and markers which compare to and surpass 60-plex protein imaging.

These datasets demonstrate the capability of the PhenoCycler-Fusion platform and the additional value of single-cell, whole-slide spatial RNA readouts. Dr. Yayon explained his vision for this technology in leading tissue atlasing projects in cancer and immunology and some potential medical applications.

Dr. Braubach presented the work of Akoya’s applications laboratory in collaboration with Dr. Arutha Kulasinghe at the University of Queensland. Their work included a first-of-its-kind 103-plex PhenoCycler-Fusion study using a large human formalin-fixed, paraffin-embedded section measuring 1.3 cm x 1.8 cm, collected from a patient with oropharyngeal carcinoma.

The 103-plex antibody panel reveals complex topography and disruption of normal tonsil architecture in tumor tissue and highlights the unique hallmarks of cancer and presence of at least 14 distinct cell phenotypes, including B cells, T cell subsets, dendritic cells, monocytes, NK cells, proliferating cells, macrophage subsets, ductal epithelial, esophageal submucosal glands (ESMG), squamous epithelia, vascular endothelium, lymphatic vessels, and tumor cells. The most exciting findings were the identification of four different tumor neighborhoods with unique immune microenvironments not otherwise seen with conventional H&E staining.

Akoya’s finest enjoying the unique experience AGBT has to offer and celebrating the launch of the latest whole-slide multiomic solution.

Discussing spatial—two ways

Another experience, unique only to AGBT was a “fireside chat” hosted by thought leaders Dr. Garry Nolan, Rachford and Carlota A. Harris Professor in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology at Stanford University School of Medicine, co-inventor of Akoya’s PhenoCycler platform, and ufologist, and Dr. Christopher Mason, Professor of Genomics, Physiology, and Biophysics at Weill Cornell Medicine and the Director of the WorldQuant Initiative for Quantitative Prediction. He is also Co-Founder and Global Director at Biotia, Co-Founder and Scientific Director at Onegevity, Director of Genomics at Tempus Labs, and recently published The Next 500 Years: Engineering Life to Reach New Worlds.

What made this chat so unique was the key similarities between the two. Both are considered trailblazers in their respective fields of spatial biology and genomics, but they share a love for outer space and the cosmos. At this one-of-a-kind event, they discussed how the future of human health will be impacted by the advancements in spatial biology and sprinkled in a little bit of extraterrestrial life and space travel. Truly unique and truly fun.

To learn more, check out this webinar where we discuss Akoya’s multiomic solution and the infinite possibilities it provides.

Interested in getting your own spatial multiomic data? Apply for the Spatial Multiomics Grant Program.

Author: James DeRosa, Technical Writer

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