BIDMC opens first-of-its-kind Spatial Technologies Unit to Massachusetts’ precision medicine research community

Chloe Meck cmeck@bilh.org

AUGUST 18, 2021

Spatial technologies offer new approaches to ground-breaking research in health and disease

BOSTONWith the goal of dramatically accelerating discoveries in health and disease, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC) has opened BIDMC’s Spatial Technologies Unit, the first center in Massachusetts and one of the first of its kind worldwide. The new space will provide access to ground-breaking technologies that allow scientists to examine cells as they function within intact tissues. Made possible by a grant from the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center, the BIDMC unit will be a nexus of the state’s precision medicine community, empowering researchers across healthcare, academia, research and industry. 

“Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center’s new Spatial Technologies Unit provides powerful resources and unique opportunities not only for our own research community, but for the precision medicine community as a whole,” said Gyongyi Szabo, MD, PhD, chief academic officer of BIDMC and Beth Israel Lahey Health, and professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School (HMS). “This unit adds incredible value to the already strong ‘omics technologies platforms available at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. We are delighted to share access to this novel space that will redirect the way we approach research in health and disease, and we are grateful to the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center for their incredible support.”

Spatial technologies – including spatial transcriptomics, proteomics and genomics – are ground-breaking technologies that permit the fine-grained investigation of the role of tissue architecture, the microenvironment, and cell-to-cell communication on function and transcriptional profiles. Unlike existing bulk or single cell technologies, spatial technologies extract biological information and cell identification across a wide variety of tissues while keeping them intact. Currently only a handful of labs and companies worldwide have the ability to invest in a single technology. BIDMC’s Spatial Technologies Unit is the first of its kind to form a nucleus of these advanced technologies side-by-side and render them available to the entire research community.

“The information provided by spatial technologies is central to basic, translational, and clinical research, with a myriad of downstream applications,” said Ioannis Vlachos, PhD, director of the Spatial Technologies Unit and co-director of the Bioinformatics Program at BIDMC. “Spatial Technologies are the new frontier in biomedical research, and we expect them to expand and potentially rewrite our understanding of human pathologies. Our mission is to make them more accessible, enabling multidisciplinary innovation to develop novel treatments and diagnostics.”

Under the leadership of Vlachos, who is also assistant professor of pathology at HMS – along with project co-principal investigators Winston Hide, PhD, director of the RNA Precision Medicine Core Facility at BIDMC, and Frank Slack, PhD, director of the Cancer Research Institute at BIDMC – the Spatial Technologies Unit will provide access to the latest in-production and pre-production technologies.

“For the first time, scientists across the state now have the opportunity to answer fundamental questions about how and where cells respond to diseases, such as viral infection, cancer and Alzheimer’s disease,” said Hide, an associate professor of medicine at HMS. “We know this platform will accelerate training of our next generation of leaders in transformation of medical care.”

The approximately $3.3 million grant from the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center supported BIDMC’s obtaining distinct cutting-edge spatial transcriptomic technologies, including super resolution microscopy (Bruker Vutara VXL), subcellular resolution targeted spatial transcriptomics (Vizgen MERSCOPE), hypothesis-free spatial tissue gene expression (10x Genomics Visium), and region of interest (ROI)-based whole transcriptome spatial assays (NanoString DSP). The unit will also comprise best-in-class robotic single cell technologies to maximize repeatability of findings (10x Genomics Chromium Connect), high plexity immunohistochemistry (Akoya Phenoptics and CODEX) and instrumentation for tissue microarray creation (3DHISTECH TMA Grandmaster).

“A worldwide race has started for incorporation of spatial technologies into research, innovation, diagnostics and drug development,” said Slack, also professor of pathology at HMS. “This unit will transform our local precision medicine ecosystem, enabling open and comprehensive provision of spatial applications across Massachusetts, diminishing barriers and rendering these technologies accessible to all.”

“Creation of a state-of-the-art spatial technologies unit is an extraordinary achievement, one that propels BIDMC to the forefront of this emerging area of science,” said Jeff Saffitz, MD, PhD, chief of the Department of Pathology at BIDMC and the Mallinckrodt Professor of Pathology at HMS. “The capabilities of the resource to advance our understanding of human disease are truly breathtaking.”

Scientists interested in using BIDMC’s Spatial Technology Unit for research should contact: spatialtech@bidmc.harvard.edu

About Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center

Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center is a patient care, teaching and research affiliate of Harvard Medical School and consistently ranks as a national leader among independent hospitals in National Institutes of Health funding. BIDMC is the official hospital of the Boston Red Sox.

Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center is a part of Beth Israel Lahey Health, a health care system that brings together academic medical centers and teaching hospitals, community and specialty hospitals, more than 4,800 physicians and 36,000 employees in a shared mission to expand access to great care and advance the science and practice of medicine through groundbreaking research and education.