The Mark Foundation Center for Advanced Genomics and Imaging


Multi-Investigator Award

NEW YORK, NY — The Mark Foundation for Cancer Research announced today the creation of The Mark Foundation Center for Advanced Genomics and Imaging at the Johns Hopkins University (JHU), which will receive initial funding of $5 million over 2 years.

Bringing together the tools of astronomy image analysis, pathology, computer science, cancer genomics, and immunogenomics to solve problems in oncology, the new center will find innovative solutions that can expand the number of cancer patients who benefit from immunotherapy.

Scientists from The Mark Foundation will collaborate with JHU researchers as part of a joint steering committee that will review scientific progress and facilitate the success of the center.

“It takes a village of diverse disciplines and areas of expertise to confront the vast challenges presented by cancer, and the work of this center is the perfect embodiment of this reality,” said Michele Cleary, PhD, CEO of The Mark Foundation. “One focus of the center is especially imaginative, as it involves developing a new platform that takes a model used in astronomical nighttime sky analysis and turns it into one that can be used to analyze cancer tumors.”

The Mark Foundation Center for Advanced Genomics and Imaging will be led by Drew Pardoll, MD, PhD, Director of the Bloomberg-Kimmel Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy and co-Director of the Cancer Immunology Program at the Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center at Johns Hopkins, together with Janis Taube, MD, MSc, Professor of Dermatology and Pathology and Director of the Division of Dermatopathology and co-Director of the Tumor Microenvironment Laboratory of the Bloomberg-Kimmel Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy.

About The Mark Foundation Center for Advanced Genomics and Imaging at the Johns Hopkins University

Building on the MANAFEST project begun in December 2017 with support from both the Bloomberg-Kimmel Institute and The Mark Foundation for Cancer Research, the new center will expand its focus on platforms for identifying cancer immunotherapy biomarkers, leveraging innovative technologies in cancer genomics, immune cell profiling, and digital pathology. The overarching goal is to facilitate the development of biomarkers that can more accurately predict which patients will benefit from a given immunotherapy, a centerpiece of Kimmel Cancer Center’s precision therapy vision.  Principal investigators Drew Pardoll, MD, PhD, Director of the Bloomberg-Kimmel Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy and co-Director of the Cancer Immunology Program at the Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center at Johns Hopkins, and Janis Taube, MD, MSc, Professor of Dermatology and Pathology and Director of the Division of Dermatopathology and co-Director of the Tumor Microenvironment Laboratory of the Bloomberg-Kimmel Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy, will lead the new Center.

Paul Rothman, M.D., Dean and CEO of Johns Hopkins Medicine, and an esteemed group of scientists, bring focused leadership to the new Center: Alexander Szalay, PhD, a Bloomberg Distinguished Professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy; Robert Anders, MD, PhD, Associate Professor of Pathology and co-Director of the Tumor Microenvironment Laboratory of the Bloomberg-Kimmel Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy with Dr. Taube; Alan Yuille, PhD, a Bloomberg Distinguished Professor in the Departments of Cognitive Science and Computer Science;  Alexander Baras, MD, PhD Associate Professor of Pathology; and Srinivasan Yegnasubramanian, MD, PhD, Associate Professor of Oncology. The Dean and CEO of Johns Hopkins Medicine, Paul Rothman, M.D.

Astronomy accelerates pathology

One pillar of the center is the creation of a new platform called AstroPath that takes a model used in astronomy and turns into one that can be used for massively scalable, spatially resolved analysis of the tumor immune microenvironment. Leveraging the knowledge and computational tools for nighttime sky image analysis already well-established in the field of astronomy, the team will translate imaging of galaxies – 100 trillion miles in diameter – to imaging of cells in cancer tissues – one millionth of an inch in diameter. The AstroPath initiative is building a new high-quality imaging system for microscopic sections of tumor biopsies that delivers insights into their susceptibility to various immune therapies. Deep learning algorithms will then be applied to link data outputs from tumor tissue image analyses to patient outcomes, thereby allowing pathologists and oncologists to predict which patients will benefit from various immunotherapy options.

Towards a unified platform for cancer genomics and cancer immunology

The other pillar of the center is the MANAFEST platform, which is focused on the development of a system to identify immune responses to changes in the genomes of cancer cells that could be used as a basis for personalized immunotherapy. Mutations, which represent changes in cancer genomes, generate biochemical signatures that are recognized as foreign by the immune system. The identification of such fragments, known as mutation-associated neoantigens (MANA), and the immune cells which target them for killing, is the goal of the MANAFEST platform. To accomplish this goal, cancer genomics and immunology analyses are integrated within a single, standardized platform that enables the identification of key biological indicators of how cancer patients will respond to immunotherapies. This integration represents a collaboration between the cancer immunology and cancer genetics programs, led by Drs. Bert Vogelstein and Ken Kinzler, Professors of Oncology and co-directors of the Ludwig Center for cancer genomics.

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