Spatial omics technology coming to WSU

Derek Pouchnik, co-director of the Laboratory for Biotechnology and Bioanalysis, prepares tissue samples for the new GeoMx Digital Spatial Profiler inside WSU’s Biotechnology and Life Sciences Building.

Researchers at Washington State University can now more easily study how cells pass information to each other, thanks to nearly $500,000 in grants from the M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust.

The grants were awarded to purchase the GeoMx Digital Spatial Profiler, a new technology that allows scientists to better understand direct cell-to-cell communication through a method known as spatial omics. 

“These platforms allow us to look at the expression of genes in cells in their spatial context as they exist in a tissue in the body,” said Jon Oatley, associate dean of research at the WSU College of Veterinary Medicine. Oatley said by picking a cell and understanding what it is producing and how it may affect the cells it is next to; researchers could create an atlas and determine how cells communicate in the tissue.

“With this new technology, we can build a deep understanding of how cell-to-cell communication happens to carry out the process of entire organs,” he said. The new technology is housed in the Laboratory for Biotechnology and Bioanalysis, located in the Biotechnology and Life Sciences Building, and was installed by Seattle-based company NanoString in mid-February.

Over the past 20 years, with the assistance of the M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust, the Center for Reproductive Biology and the Laboratory for Biotechnology and Bioanalysis have evolved into state-of-the-art service facilities on the WSU Pullman campus. 

While the money was awarded to the WSU College of Veterinary Medicine, $85,000 awarded by the trust was leftover for other WSU researchers throughout the life sciences to build a user base for the technology. NanoString also credited WSU $15,000 for reagent kits.

Oatley said the money should help ensure the equipment is well utilized. “With this additional funding we could get eight faculty working on research projects with $10,000 to each,” said Oatley, who applied for the grant and the additional funding for WSU faculty. Or larger amounts could be given to fewer projects, he said.

The M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust, created by the will of the late Melvin J. (Jack) Murdock, provides grants to nonprofit organizations in the Pacific Northwest that seek to strengthen the region’s educational, social, spiritual, and cultural base in creative and sustainable ways, according to their website. Since 2011, the M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust has awarded more than awarded more than $7 million to the WSU Foundation.

Those interested in using the equipment can contact the lab’s co-director Derek Pouchnik at pooch@wsu.edu.

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