HSCI scientists expand Human Cell Atlas efforts

November 19, 2020

Four Harvard Stem Cell Institute (HSCI) faculty members have been awarded grants from the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative to expand the Human Cell Atlas, a global effort to map every cell in the human body. The scientists are leading projects as part of the Seed Networks for the Human Cell Atlas, whose goal is to help ensure that the first draft of the atlas is fully representative of the global population. True representation of human genetic ancestral diversity will enable a broad application of the atlas to diseases that impact the global population, ultimately helping to build an equitable and inclusive future for the field of single-cell biology.

Allon Klein, HSCI Affiliate Faculty member, is co-leader of a project to catalog blood stem cells in the bone marrow. Focusing on blood production, the project will use methods including single-cell transcriptomics, multiplexed spatial imaging, and a pilot lineage-tracing map. To construct a representative atlas, the project will include bone marrow samples from donors of African descent. Historically, the blood count ranges that are routinely used to diagnose disease  have been developed by sampling mostly individuals of European descent. As individuals of African descent exhibit significantly different blood counts, building more representative blood count ranges should help improve outcomes for diseases such as early-stage breast cancer in African American women.

HSCI Affiliate Faculty members Jonathan Seidman and Christine Seidman are co-leaders of a project to build a spatially resolved, single-cell reference map of the adult human heart. The researchers will work to understand differences in cell type composition or distribution that may underlie cardiovascular disease, which may be influenced by race and ethnicity. In addition to socioeconomic factors, genetic determinants are known to contribute to cardiovascular disease risk factors and cardiovascular pathologies — but how do these risk factors manifest in the identity or composition of various cell types in the heart? The project will incorporate samples from Black and Latinx donors and include collaborators in Canada and Brazil for obtaining these heart tissues.

Jayaraj Rajagopal, HSCI Principal Faculty member, is co-leading a project to create the first human lung cell atlas. The atlas will integrate single cell and spatial transcriptomics, microscopy, and other data types. Creating a lung atlas that will be broadly useful as a reference for understanding diseases such as asthma will require integrating samples from varying ages and ethnicities. This project will build upon the existing collection of pediatric airway and lung samples, drawn from multiple locations in the lung, and will include additional Black and Asian pediatric samples from across five age groups.

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Read the full list of projects from the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative’s Seed Networks for the Human Cell Atlas.