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WU Nephrology Part of International Human Cell Atlas Project

Photo by Dr. Haojia Wu, Instructor of Medicine in the Division of Nephrology.

We are proud to announce that Dr. Benjamin Humphreys, Joseph P. Friedman Associate Professor and Chief of the Division of Nephrology will receive a Chan-Zuckerberg Initiative (CZI) grant to fund research as part of the ambitious Human Cell Atlas project.

Dr. Humphreys’ pilot project is one of only 38 chosen from 481 applications submitted from around the globe. Mark Zuckerberg, founder and CEO of Facebook, and his wife, Priscilla Chan, a pediatrician, co-founded CZI in December 2015. The goal of the initiative is to advance human potential and promote equal opportunity, starting with science and education.

The Human Cell Atlas project will create a comprehensive, open-reference map of every cell type in the body. The project will catalog where the cells are located, which genes, proteins and other molecules are expressed in each cell type, what processes control their activities, how the cells normally interact with one another, and what happens during disease.

The atlas will serve as a resource to study health and to diagnose, monitor and treat disease. Data from the Human Cell Atlas will be free and available to all.

As part of the Human Cell Atlas project, Dr. Humphreys’ research will provide information on cell types of the kidney. His grant is titled Comparing Microfluidic-Based Single Cell RNA-Sequencing Approaches for Development of a Human Kidney Cell Atlas.

For decades, the kidney biopsy has been the “gold standard” test used by clinicians for detecting kidney disease, providing critical diagnostic and prognostic assessment as well as therapy guidance. Biopsies are read using light microscopy, electron microscopy and indirect immunofluorescence using a limited number of antibodies.

However, advances in single-cell genomic analysis allow newer ways to characterize cells. Rather than measuring the expression of several genes at a time by immunofluorescence, it is now possible to simultaneously measure the expression of thousands of genes in thousands of single cells.

“In this project, we will define new methods to perform single cell RNA-sequencing on human kidney tissue,” says Dr. Humphreys. “Our goal is to develop a Human Kidney Cell Atlas that accurately describes genes that are present in all of the more than 30 different cell types present in human kidney. This work will lay the foundation for a transformation in our understanding of kidney cell diversity, and ultimately bring diagnosis based on kidney biopsy into the molecular age.”

A CZI grant is also being awarded to another Washington University researcher, Samantha Morris, PhD, Assistant Professor of Developmental Biology and Genetics, whose work was an inspiration to Dr. Humphreys (see article). Using single-cell RNA sequencing, Dr. Morris will analyze cells in the liver and small intestine. Her project will also help with multiplexing and standardization of this new technique so that results can be compared across labs.

The pilot project awardees were announced on the CZI Facebook page Oct. 16, 2017. Information on all 38 projects can be found here.

Follow this link to keep updated on the science, meetings, funding and publications of the Human Cell Atlas project. Please visit the Division of Nephrology’s Facebook page and follow us on Twitter.

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