Regional Provision of Nanostring CosMx Spatial Molecular Imager

Lead Research Organisation: University of Birmingham
Department Name: Institute of Inflammation and Ageing


This grant will fund cutting-edge imaging equipment allowing scientists to visualise our body's tissues in unprecedented detail in health and disease. This will enable them to simultaneously determine the levels, location, and function of crucial cell types, receptors and processes, and understand how they interact.

Recent advances in technology - "single cell sequencing" - have allowed doctors and scientists to extract cells from tissue samples and determine which genes are switched on in each individual cell. This has been hugely informative and has changed our understanding of disease. However the data this approach provides is akin to knowing the name and role of every member of the two teams in a football match, but only being allowed to listen to the game on the radio. The new equipment this grant will fund allows us to watch the whole football game as if live: We can actually see the genes switched on in cells in extraordinary detail in the tissues themselves, allowing us to understand how different types of cell communicate with one another in local neighbourhoods to drive processes such as inflammation, cancer and ageing. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, which affects multiple tissues in the body, has highlighted the importance of understanding these issues at a fundamental level.

We will place this new equipment in a specialist facility in the University of Birmingham that is dedicated to the study of tissue, and has multiple machines and resources that provide additional complementary data for tissue studies, alongside specialist trained staff. This will ensure that the research enabled by this new equipment will be delivered rapidly, and will be available to the largest possible number of researchers in order to make the greatest possible advances in science and medicine.

Technical Summary

This bid will establish subcellular resolution spatial transcriptomics as a key technology within the University of Birmingham's Birmingham Tissue Analytics Facility [BTA]. The Nanostring CosMx Spatial Molecular imager provides a unique route to characterise diverse tissue microenvironments at single-cell resolution, yielding critical information about cellular phenotypes, differentiation, localisation/trafficking, inter-cellular interactions, and ultimately effector and regulatory mechanisms. Local MRC remit research encompasses discovery, translation, novel therapies and molecular stratification across healthy, diseased and ageing tissue-based research, but crucially we will offer CosMx externally, creating regional provision for this new technology. High resolution spatial transcriptomics capability will greatly complement synergistic digital histology equipment in BTA, one of the only global facilities to combine field-leading multiplex IF and spatial transcriptomics platforms in one integrated vision. Such parallel technologies will catalyse new pipelines integrating spatial transcriptomics and proteomics datasets for rapid analysis, taking advantage of CosMx's linked cloud analysis platform and the strength of the Birmingham Environment for Academic Research (BEAR) computing resource. Our strong emphasis on computational approaches exploits a combination of sophisticated image analysis software platforms and cutting-edge method development working across regional consortia such as COMPARE, maximising biological insights and catalysing interactions between computational and functional biologists.


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