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Professor Alison Simmons, the Director of the Oxford University MRC Human Immunology Unit (MRC HIU), together with Dr Hashem Koohy, group leader at Radcliffe Department of Medicine and the MRC HIU, have been awarded a Chan Zuckerberg Initiative Paediatric Networks for the Human Cell Atlas grant.

The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative (CZI) has announced $33 million in grants to support collaborative groups of researchers and paediatricians to better understand, prevent, and treat childhood diseases.

These 17 groups of researchers represent 15 different countries, and will contribute healthy paediatric single-cell reference data to the global Human Cell Atlas as a foundational resource for providing insight into the cellular origins of disease onset in children.

Professor Simmons project aims to develop an open access spatiotemporal atlas of childhood intestinal development, with the team building a single-cell atlas of the paediatric intestine. This will help researchers and clinicians understand how the human intestine matures in childhood, as well as adult intestinal diseases.

Professor Simmons team, in collaboration with Dr Koohy’s group, has previously provided open access atlases of the human colon in health and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), and a resource documenting how the human foetal intestine develops. These resources highlighted an urgent need to undertake studies to better understand how a healthy immune system develops in symbiosis with the intestinal microbiota, and provide a framework to understand both neonatal, childhood, and adult intestinal diseases.

When discussing her project, Professor Simmons shared, “Single-cell technologies have revolutionized our understanding of human tissue biology in health and disease. By defining cellular heterogeneity, differentiation, and cross-talk, these techniques are capable of highlighting the molecular determinants governing development and homeostasis in health and the mechanisms underpinning cellular remodeling in disease.”

Dr Hashem Koohy adds, “This project will not only provide a state-of-the art tissue and data resource, but develop a novel computational framework using machine learning models for prediction of transcriptomic features from histology.”

“The project additionally highlights the power of great teamwork and multidisciplinary approaches in dealing with high dimensional multimodal data and would have not been possible without great efforts by Dr David Fawkner-Corbett and Dr Agne Antanviciute.”

Professor Paul Johnson from the Nuffield Department of Surgical Sciences, and the co-director of the Oxford Islet Transplant programme, is also an investigator on this project.

“Single-cell technologies have incredible potential to accelerate scientific knowledge as researchers work to understand how cells and organs mature and relate to pediatric diseases,” said CZI Science Program Officer for Single-Cell Biology Jonah Cool. “We’re excited to welcome CZI’s Pediatric Networks for a Human Cell Atlas teams to our grantee community, and for these researchers and paediatricians to make progress on addressing childhood diseases.”