Chan Zuckerberg Initiative awards $68M for cell- and tissue-mapping seed projects

The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative has set aside $68 million in grants for more than three dozen seed projects to support the international effort to map out the workings of every type of cell in the human body.

The global Human Cell Atlas project, which began its work in 2016, aims to catalog each cell’s numbers, locations, relationships and molecular components for use as a public reference to better understand the mechanisms of disease.

To supplement the atlas’ work and to help develop new tools for the undertaking—such as proteomic imaging, open-source data analysis programs and sequencing of cell-to-cell interactions—the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative has selected 38 collaborative science teams for its three-year Seed Networks plan.

Each group includes at least three principal investigators with at least one computational biologist or software engineer, plus computational biologists, engineers and experimental biologists. In addition, 60% of the basic research teams will include a physician to provide a clinical perspective. Taken together, the grant recipients represent 20 countries and over 200 laboratories.

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Many of the selected participants will focus on charting out specific tissues, such as the spinal cord, reproductive systems and the body’s vascular networks, as well as on mapping organs like the lungs, heart, eyes, liver and brain.

Others are focused on developing new methods of single- and multicell profiling, including delivering 3D maps of cell interactions that impact proliferation and metabolism. Additionally, several projects will explore the diversity of the immune system, such as how its moving parts are influenced by a person’s ethnic background or change over their lifetime.

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All of the data, protocols and tools developed will be made freely available to the research community, the initiative said in a statement. The Human Cell Atlas Data Coordination Platform to share the project’s findings among researchers and institutes is being built and funded in part by the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative alongside the European Bioinformatics Institute, the Broad Institute of Harvard and MIT and the University of California, Santa Cruz.

In the past two years, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative has supported 85 projects to build computational tools for the atlas and 38 separate pilots to develop best practices and technologies.