Cancer can be mapped as if it were the map of the universe: an initiative that brings together immunologists, pathologists, oncologists and astrophysicists has been launched to discover immuno-oncological biomarkers taking advantage of the technology of telescopes that observe the stars.
The Bloomberg-Kimmel Cancer Immunotherapy Institute (BKI) and the Bloomberg Center for Physics and Astronomy, at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine (both in Baltimore, USA), are the protagonists of this innovative initiative, aimed at develop, validate and clinically implement phenotypic tumor signatures that are useful for cancer treatments.
The idea is to take advantage of the latest advances in multiple immunofluorescence (MIF), which can study in detail the interactions that occur within a tumor, to analyze the large data sets generated by this technology with algorithms specialized in astronomy: this is how it manages to identify rapidly predictive phenotypic signatures of the best treatments.
Although immunotherapy, which stimulates the body’s natural defenses to fight cancer, has demonstrated its methodological success, in practice the patients in whom it has worked are a minority.
New biomarkers Doctors therefore raise the convenience of discovering new predictive biomarkers, which anticipate a patient’s response to each cancer treatment, to improve the chances of cure.
The MIF has established itself as the most suitable technology to predict the response that a cancer patient will elicit to a certain treatment, because it is capable of converting the spatial data of the tumor into actionable intelligence.
It is in this phase that the algorithms that map the skies come into play. Through a program (AstroPath), large MIF data sets are analyzed integrating the principles of immunology, pathology, informatics and astronomy, to discover predictive biomarkers of each patient.
The system facilitates the exploration of the deep spatial biology of sections of whole tissue, in order to reshape the future development of immunotherapy biomarkers, say its creators in a release.
Cancer as the universe
Cancer as the universe The Economist magazine Explain In addition, this initiative involves the Sloan Digital Sky Survey or SDSS, a space research project, which has so far analyzed a third of the universe and almost 2 billion celestial bodies.
This telescope captures photons of light from the universe and converts them into an electrical signal that is then analyzed to build a representation of cosmic reality: it draws the objects captured by the telescope and indicates the distance at which they are.
To get closer to biology, a microscope has been added to this telescope: in this way, researchers image cancer cells and tissues in the same way that SDSS images the universe.
That is, the microscope captures images of wide sections of tumors from different angles and then those images are subjected to the same data analysis techniques that the telescope uses to draw a detailed map of the tumor, as if it were a part of the universe.
Within the reach of all oncologists
Within the reach of all oncologists AstroPath has so far analyzed 226 million lung and skin tumor cells and for its analysis it has had to process more pixels than all those treated so far by the powerful telescope.
The idea of the project is to get to process, with the help of the SDSS, 1,000 times more data to analyze hundreds of individual tumors of more than 20 different types of cancer.
This information will then be made available to all oncologists so that they can apply better treatments to their respective patients and thus save many more lives.
Top photo: light from distant galaxies. ESA / Hubble and NASA.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.