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Spatial Analytics of Cancer Challenge Connects Investigators to Advance Cancer Research


On November 17-18, 2023, the Single Cell Spatial Analysis Program, the Rogel Cancer Center, and the Biointerfaces Institute (BI) hosted the Spatial Analytics of Cancer Challenge. The two-day Challenge brought together clinicians, scientists, engineers, and technologists from across the University of Michigan (U-M) to explore new research concepts that connect at the intersection of single cell technologies and cancer.

The challenge featured presentations by U-M Faculty from a variety of departments including:

Oral cancer puzzles for spatial analytics | Nisha D’ Silva, BDS, MSD, PhD, Donald A Kerr Endowed Collegiate Professor of Oral Pathology, Professor of Dentistry, School of Dentistry and Professor of Pathology

Spatial analysis of sarcomatoid renal cancer | Evan Keller, DVM, PhD, Richard and Susan Rogel Professor of Oncology, Professor of Urology and Pathology, Associate Professor of Comparative Pathology, Director of the Single Cell Spatial Analysis Program, Director of Research Cores Office of VP for Research; and Associate Director of Rogel Cancer Center Shared Resources

Cellular cartography reveals determinants of prostate organization and castration resistance | Sethu Pitchiaya, PhD, Assistant Professor, Urology, Assistant Professor, Pathology

Synthetic niches to monitor disease progression and response to therapy | Lonnie Shea, PhD, Steven A Goldstein Collegiate Professor of Biomedical Engineering, Professor of Biomedical Engineering, College of Engineering and Medical School, Professor of Chemical Engineering, College of Engineering and Professor of Surgery, Medical School

A scalable engineered extracellular matrix platform for regenerative medicine and patient-derived microtumors | Joerg Lahann, PhD, Wolfgang Pauli Collegiate Professor of Chemical Engineering, Professor of Chemical Engineering, Professor of Materials Science and Engineering, Professor of Biomedical Engineering, Professor of Macromolecular Science and Engineering and Academic Program Director, Biointerfaces Institute, College of Engineering

Tools for multiplexed and scalable observations of cell physiology | Changyang Linghu, PhD, Assistant Professor, Department of Cell and Developmental Biology

Spatial analytics for the tumor microenvironment, case studies from spatial multiplex imaging and spatial transcriptomics | Arvid Rao, PhD, Associate Professor, Department of Computational Medicine & Bioinformatics; Associate Professor, Radiation Oncology

Computational methods for spatial transcriptomic analysis of cancer | Xiang Zhou, PhD, Professor, Department of Biostatistics

Simultaneous detection of 40 markers on single cells using CyTOF | Fei Wen, PhD, Associate Professor, Department of Chemical Engineering

Drug delivery approaches to modulate the immune system | James Moon, PhD, J G Searle Professor, Professor of Pharmaceutical Sciences, Professor of Biomedical Engineering, Medical School and College of Engineering and Professor of Chemical Engineering

The event’s keynote address, “Leveraging spatial reverse translation for oncology drug discovery” was given by Dr. Eugene Drokhlyansky, Principal Scientist and Anna Lyubetskaya, Principal Scientist at Bristol Myers Squibb.

A reception wrapping up the first day gave everyone the chance to network, discuss the exciting science they heard about from the speakers, and begin to identify collaborations.

Break-out discussions were the focus of the second day. Attendees chose one of three topics to engage in:

  • How to move spatial analytics to clinics?
  • What new methods would enhance spatial analysis?
  • What role does AI play in spatial analytics?

Challenge participants were encouraged to use the break-out session discussions to develop collaborative research proposals for the seed fund competitions, to promote emerging interdisciplinary collaborations, fund novel research directions for the collection of early data, create steppingstones for larger-scale proposals, and establish a bridge between a diverse group of scientists and researchers.

The winners of the Challenge funds were:

Role of the Tumor-Immune Microenvironment in Bladder Cancer Invasive Progression

  • Co-PI: Phillip Palmbos MD, PhD, Associate Professor of Internal Medicine
  • Co-PI: Evan Keller DVM, PhD, Professor of Urology and Pathology
  • Co-I: Aaron Udager MD, PhD, Associate Professor and PSTD Associate Director of Pathology
  • Co-I: Mark Day PhD, Professor of Urology
  • Co-I: Sofia Merajver MD, PhD, GreaterGood Breast Cancer Research Professor, Professor of Internal Medicine
  • Co-I: Nate Merrill PhD, Research Investigator, Internal Medicine


Single-Cell Spatiotemporal Analysis of Castration Resistance in Prostate Cancer

  • Co-PI: Sethu Pitchiaya, PhD, Assistant Professor of Pathology and Urology
  • Co-PI: Changyang Linghu, PhD, Assistant Professor of Cell and Developmental Biology
  • Co-I: Evan Keller, DVM PhD, Professor of Urology and Pathology


Probing the Molecular Basis of Tumor Dormancy Using Single Cell Transcriptomics


Special thanks to the Spatial Analytics of Cancer Challenge Steering Committee, which included Evan Keller, Joerg Lahann, Isabelle Lombaert, Sunitha Nagrath, Max Wicha.

The Biointerfaces Institute brings extensive experience to the collaborations that lead to scientific breakthroughs, successful translation, and advanced learning.

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