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Human Cell Atlas

Immune cell characteristics mapped across multiple tissues

Published on: 12 May 2022

Experts have shed new light on the types and traits of immune cells that can be found in the human body, from early life to adulthood.

Previously underexplored immune cell populations have been the focus of a Newcastle University study, mapping across multiple tissues in development and adulthood.

The work provides new insights into how our immune system works, aiding the development of new therapies to treat immunity-related disorders.

Professor Muzlifah Haniffa

Mapping cell types

The study was part of the international Human Cell Atlas (HCA) consortium, which is aiming to map every cell type in the human body as a basis for both understanding human health and for diagnosing, monitoring, and treating disease.

An open, scientist-led consortium, HCA is a collaborative effort of researchers, institutes, and funders worldwide, with more than 2,300 members from 83 countries across the globe.

Published today in Science, researchers created an atlas of the developing human immune system across nine organs. They used spatial transcriptomics and single-cell RNA sequencing to map the exact location of specific cells within developing tissues.

The scientists were able to identify a new type of B cell, and distinctive T cells that appear in the early stages of life. The team used data from the other Human Cell Atlas study to prove that these particular immune cells are not found in adults.

Professor Muzlifah Haniffa, a senior author on the study from Newcastle University and the Wellcome Sanger Institute, said: “This comprehensive atlas of human immune development reveals tissues involved in the formation of blood and immune cells, enhancing our understanding of immune disorders.

“In cooperation with the other studies it enables mapping of the immune system from development to adulthood, revealing cell types that are lost as we grow up. It also helps to inform cell engineering and regenerative medicine research.”

The wider research community can freely use the cross-tissue immune cell atlas to help interpret and inform future research.

Having a complete cell atlas could serve as a framework to identify which immune cells could be useful to activate when designing new therapeutics that focus on guiding or supporting the immune system, such as vaccination and immunotherapies, for both infectious diseases and solid tumours.

Major studies published

The paper is one of four major studies published this week, which have created comprehensive and openly available cross-tissue cell atlases.

The complementary studies shed light on health and disease, and will contribute towards a single Human Cell Atlas.

The human immune system is made up of many different types of cells that can be found throughout the body, all playing crucial roles. They not only fight off pathogens when they appear but remember them so they can be eliminated in the future.

Dr Sarah Teichmann, co-senior author on the study from Wellcome Sanger Institute, and co-founder of the Human Cell Atlas, said: “Our multi-tissue immune cell atlases are a step towards understanding how the immune system functions throughout the entire body at different stages of life and are an important contribution towards the Human Cell Atlas.

“A detailed understanding of cells through the Human Cell Atlas will help explain many aspects of human health and disease.

“In addition to creating a new resource for researchers to classify different cell types, our work will have many translational implications, including serving as a framework for developing therapies to fight immune-related diseases and managing infections.”


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