30 Aug 2021 by Samuel Aparicio


-Fighting cancer genome variants, decoding cancer immunity-

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau with Dr. Aparicio and Ciara O'Flanagan

The last decade has seen a new revolution in biomedical technology now introducing a new era of translational research. Nowhere is this more prominent than in the field of oncology.

Now emerging is a greater appreciation of the extent of cellular heterogeneity in many human malignant populations, the plasticity of its genesis and its relevance to challenging current approaches to the diagnosis and therapy of human cancers.

However, cancer is not a static disease - we are fighting sequence variants in cancer (just as in covid-19), the emergence of which, underpin treatment failure and cancer progression.

Cancer genome variants manifest as cellular heterogeneity - each individual cell in a cancer can have a different genetic makeup.

The immune system is also being harnessed to defeat cancer, however most cancers do not stimulate a productive immune response, despite the emergence of mutations in the cancer.

Advancing immune therapies requires decoding of the immune-cancer synapse - the interface between malignant cells and the immune system also requires single cell molecular technologies

Unfortunately most of our knowledge of cancers to date have been acquired by methods that destroy cell level information and that rely on analyses of samples obtained from a single site at a single time point.

To make the next leap forward in discovery, we have created the CANCER SINGLE CELL DYNAMICS OBSERVATORY which leverages the work of 10 leading scientists (lead PI, Aparicio) in BC, who have published together over 200 articles in leading journals.

The physical infrastructure of the CANCER SINGLE CELL DYNAMICS OBSERVATORY has been supported by a Canada Foundation for Innovation award, valued at ~6M for the total project, bringing much needed equipment to the project. We were honoured to have our project announced personally by the Prime Minister of Canada, Rt. Honorable Justin Trudeau MP, in March 2021.

The CANCER SINGLE CELL DYNAMICS OBSERVATORY aims to lower morbidity and mortality from cancer from developing and democratizing application of leading single cell analysis methods. Technology developments will include multi-modal methods, spatial single cell sequencing methods, and high novel high dimensional statistical methods and machine learning approaches to the data.

The CANCER SINGLE CELL DYNAMICS OBSERVATORY draws on expertise from leading BC scientists in the field of genomics, molecular biology, engineering, cancer biology, immunology, statistics, machine learning, clinical medicine and drug development.

BC CANCER and UBC scientists have been at the leading edge of technology development in the single cell field, with new approaches that have now been exported to labs in New York (MSKCC, NYGC), Crick Institute UK, Japan Cancer Center and adopted by other scientists in the field.

The CANCER SINGLE CELL DYNAMICS OBSERVATORY thus builds on our internationally recognized developments in single-cell measurements and related computational/statistical methods from the team members already published in primary journals and in the leading edge cancer and tissue immunology programs of the PIs.

The CANCER SINGLE CELL DYNAMICS OBSERVATORY will leverage two funded international partnerships in single-cell biology of which we are co-leaders, reflecting the international network of the PIs.

Exciting times ahead for decoding cell behaviours in tissues with leading edge spatial and dissociated single cell methods.