The research team of Pascal Barbry (IPMC, Université Côte d'Azur), recipient of a grant from the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative

This funding will support the team’s research to establish the IDs of respiratory tract cells. It is part of a "Human Cell Atlas" global consortium to create a reference atlas of all cells in the human body.

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481 applications were submitted for the first call for proposals, from institutions spread across 6 continents. The 38 pilot projects, involving research and development, come from 8 countries in Europe, Africa, Asia and North America. This distribution illustrates the global and collaborative nature of the Atlas.

The “Human Cell Atlas” will establish a resource accessible to all for studies in biology/medicine. Thanks to the enthusiasm of a small group of researchers, a large international consortium has established itself to increase the impact of biological research on single cells. Project partners are committed to building a freely available and easily accessible resource to access data, and to develop the software and standards required for data analysis and sharing, based on best practices for open-source and collaborative development.

This Atlas will revolutionize the way we perceive human anatomy and cell biology. Thanks to this initiative, new fundamental questions about the progression of diseases and the state of the cell can be addressed. It will allow the development of new diagnoses, new drug targets, and integrate new digital approaches to better understand diseases.

The Human Cell Atlas is a large-scale, long-term international project involving many of the world's leading research institutions. The 38 selected pilot projects will play a key role in developing the tools and technologies needed to build an Atlas of 1013 human cell types.

Grants were awarded on the recommendation of the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative (CZI) and will be funded by the “Silicon Valley Community Foundation”. CZI hopes to support and accelerate the development of robust experimental technologies, to enable the deployment of an open analysis and shared infrastructure, and to foster international collaboration in this field. The two project leaders are Dr. Aviv Regev (Broad Institute of MIT, Harvard, USA), and Dr. Sarah Teichmann (Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, UK).

Establish cellular IDs
"The funding awarded to our laboratory (IPMC, Sophia Antipolis and Nice University Hospital Center - Lenval Foundation) makes it possible to finance a one-year pilot project to establish the identity of respiratory tract cells" explains Pascal Barbry, Director of IPMC. "Cells found in the nose, trachea and bronchi perform essential functions to enable proper respiration. Any dysfunction that affects them can be the cause of a serious disease such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease(COPD) or cystic fibrosis," says the director.

The IPMC project is conducted in collaboration with the adult and pediatric pulmonology teams of the Nice University Hospital Center - Lenval Foundation (Dr. Leroy, Dr. Giovannini-Chami, and Pr. Marquette).

The samples of the airways cells will be taken during a bronchoscopy, a bronchial examination that is performed under local anesthesia, using a thin flexible device (fiberscope) to reach different anatomical levels of the airways. The cells will be extracted, and the expression profiles of all the genes expressed in each individual cell will be evaluated. Several thousand cells will be characterized in each experiment.
The single cell genomic research began at the IPMC in early 2015, as part of a project supported by the Cancéropôle PACA, the Defeat Cystic Fibrosis Association (Vaincre la Mucoviscidose), the France Genomic national infrastructure and the Departmental Council of the Alpes Maritimes.

When can we expect the human cell atlas project to be completed? "Several years will be needed to build this atlas," specifies Pascal Barbry. "Like the human genome sequencing project, or any other major research project giving rise to new disciplines that continue to evolve our understanding of biology and disease today, the Human Cell Atlas is set to become a new reference upon which a broad community can build for many years, and reflects a whole new way of understanding the human body." concludes the researcher.


(Transl. by Abby Cuttriss,
UCA Office of Intl. Scientific Visibility)