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A research paper co-authored by Northeastern alumni Andrew Tang and Lia Petronio was recently published in the journal Nature, with their visualization from the article represented on the cover of the issue. The article, entitled A metastasis map of human cancer cell lines (December 2020), introduces an in vivo barcoding strategy that is capable of determining the metastatic potential of human cancer cell lines in mouse xenografts at scale. While most deaths from cancer are explained by metastasis, large-scale metastasis research has been impractical owing to the complexity of in vivo models. Andrew, Senior Interaction Designer, and Lia, Data Visualization Developer, both work at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard – and graduated from Northeastern’s Information Design and Data Visualization graduate program in 2017.

As the abstract of the article explains, the authors validated the robustness, scalability and reproducibility of the method and applied it to 500 cell lines spanning 21 types of solid tumour. We created a first-generation metastasis map (MetMap) that reveals organ-specific patterns of metastasis, enabling these patterns to be associated with clinical and genomic features. We demonstrate the utility of MetMap by investigating the molecular basis of breast cancers capable of metastasizing to the brain—a principal cause of death in patients with this type of cancer. Breast cancers capable of metastasizing to the brain showed evidence of altered lipid metabolism. Perturbation of lipid metabolism in these cells curbed brain metastasis development, suggesting a therapeutic strategy to combat the disease and demonstrating the utility of MetMap as a resource to support metastasis research.

Explore the data closely here, and read this blog post about the article written by Kelly Krause, the Creative Director for Nature.

The full list of co-authors is: Xin Jin, Zelalem Demere, Karthik Nair, Ahmed Ali, Gino B. Ferraro, Ted Natoli, Amy Deik, Lia Petronio, Andrew A. Tang, Cong Zhu, Li Wang, Danny Rosenberg, Vamsi Mangena, Jennifer Roth, Kwanghun Chung, Rakesh K. Jain, Clary B. Clish, Matthew G. Vander Heiden, and Todd R. Golub.