Our readers heartily consumed our Q&A blog posts, a series of interviews with scientists from all over the globe who shared with us and our readers the hypotheses behind their research, the challenges encountered, and how they plan to surmount them.

The research discussed in these interviews span from autoimmunity to cancer immunotherapy and a combination of the two. The impact these scientists are having on their areas of research is a testament to the dependability, accuracy, and ease-of-use of the nCounter® platform and our portfolio of curated, ready-to-use gene expression panels.

Join us as we review the top 5 Q&A interviews that our readers in 2019.

  1. Interview with Autoimmune Disease Grant Winner Salla Keskitalo, Ph.D. from the University of Helsinki

Salla Keskitalo, Ph.D., from the University of Helsinki, was a winner of our Autoimmunity Grant Program from the Fall of 2018. Dr. Keskitalo’s research interest is ultrarare autoimmune diseases, which, in her small country of Finland, are more represented than anywhere else given the geographic isolation of the country.  While this affords a greater opportunity to study ultra-rare diseases, it also results in fewer funding resources, meaning that her experiments need to be cost-effective, multiplexed, and impactful. The multiplexing ability of the NanoString® nCounter technology and our Autoimmune Discovery Consortium Panel gave Dr. Keskitalo and her team confidence that, with limited sample material, they would be able to identify pathways in these rare disease samples that could be targeted with currently available therapies.

Read about Dr. Keskitalo’s fascinating journey through the challenges of deciphering rare autoimmune diseases.

  • Interview with Juliane Nguyen, Ph.D., from the University of North Carolina about miRNA Signatures within Exosomes

Exosomes are membrane-bound extracellular vesicles produced in the endosomal compartment of most eukaryotic cells; they circulate in the bloodstream and are involved in cell communication and regulation. Because of their origin, exosomes carry a treasure trove of molecular information that mirror the content of the cells that secrete them. As natural FedEx packages, exosomes are being investigated as drug carriers. The expression of microRNAs (miRNAs) can be altered in the treatment of many diseases; because miRNAs are part of exosome cargo and are key components in exosome-mediated communication, the topic of exosomes and miRNA has been raising the interests of scientists like Juliane Nguyen, Ph.D.,, who runs the Therapeutic Biomaterials Laboratory at the University of North Carolina and is interested in using exosomes as drug carriers.

In her interview, Dr. Nguyen reveals how she decided to use NanoString to study exosomal miRNA signatures and their biological impact after reading peer-reviewed publications that mentioned how robust, reproducible, and easy-to-use the NanoString nCounter platform is. Read Dr. Nguyen’s full interview here.

  • Interview with Drs. Torsten Nielsen and Tony Ng & Angela Goytain on the Development of a Sarcoma Gene Fusion Assay

Sarcomas are rare malignancies (less than 1% of all adult solid tumors) of mesenchymal origin. They pose a particular diagnostic dilemma due to their diversity: more than 50 histological subtypes are currently recognized and are characterized by multiple fusion genes that increase the complexity of transcripts found within the tumor. The right assay can be critical to finding suitable treatment, but currently accepted assays like FISH and NGS are laborious, expensive and time consuming.

In their interview with NanoString, Drs. Torsten Nielsen and Tony Ng along with Angela Goytain from the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada, explain that the challenges of developing an assay are due to the high number of potential variants for a fusion gene—repetitions, insertions, deletions—and detecting all of these fusion variants in a single assay can be cumbersome. In order to keep FISH and PCR assays up to date, Dr. Nielsen and his colleagues had to design probes covering all translocations, costing them extensive regulated maintenance and QC, making it harder to develop new tests when new translocations were discovered.

By migrating their sarcoma fusion assay to NanoString, Dr. Nielsen and his colleagues replaced a whole suite of ~40 individual assays with a single assay that covers all of what they need yet is flexible enough to adapt for future demands. In addition, switching to NanoString for sarcoma fusion detection increased efficiency, lowered costs, and decreased turnaround time.

You can read here how gene fusion detection with NanoString helped Dr. Nielsen and his colleagues make the laboratory more manageable.

  • Interview with Lisa Butterfield, Ph.D., from the Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy (PICI) on Cancer Vaccines & Adoptive Cell Transfer

Lisa Butterfield, Ph.D., is a superstar in the field of cancer immunotherapy. She is the Vice President of the Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy Research Center, sits on the Executive Committee and Board of Directors for the Society for Immunotherapy of Cancer (SITC), and worked with NanoString to create the content for the CAR-T Characterization Panel.

During the interview, Dr. Butterfield explained how cancer vaccines work, how they differ from adoptive cell therapy or CAR-T cell therapy, and how all these treatments diverge from other cancer immunotherapies such as checkpoint inhibitors. She also talked about the advantages of using macrophages or natural killer cells instead of T cells for adoptive cell therapy and recent steps made to minimize the risk of adverse events.

Another hot topic in adoptive cell therapy for cancer is the manufacturing process/QC process. Dr. Butterfield explained how the CAR-T Characterization Panel provides a standard set of genes for comparison across different institutes and manufacturing sites, allowing for the creation of an accepted framework for CAR-T cell performance/quality metrics and the development of signatures for response.

Read here how Dr. Lisa Butterfield envisions using the NanoString® CAR-T  Characterization Panel.

  • Interview with Dr. Oliver Brain, from Oxford University on Immunotherapy-Related Adverse Events.

For our 5th most read blog post we are going back to Europe to talk with another grant winner, this time at the prestigious Oxford University where Dr. Oliver Brain won 24 samples worth of the nCounter® Autoimmune Profiling Panel in the Fall of 2018. Dr. Brain’s current work looks at the unintended consequences of cancer immunotherapy with immune checkpoint inhibitors (ICIs) that can result in inflammatory bowel disease.

In this interview, Dr. Brian explained how he intended to use the grant to study patients with immunotherapy-induced colitis before and after the use of ICI. He explained how classic ulcerative colitis is triggered and established as a chronic autoimmune disease and how these mechanisms differ from immunotherapy-induced colitis.

Read this Q&A with Dr. Brain about the fascinating connection between the use of ICI and the onset of immunotherapy-induced colitis.

Posted by Laura Tabellini