There are about 100 trillion cells that make up the human body. A new megascience endeavor will catalog and image each of the 200 or more types of cells from the 80 known organs and identify the genes that are active in these cells.
Cellular Map Of The Human Body
This new effort follows on the heels of the Human Genome Project that engulfed biology during the 1990s and early 2000s. Now scientists have conceived a new and exciting challenge: to create a cellular map of the entire human body, a project called the Human BioMolecular Atlas Program.
Tissue Mapping Centers
The University of Florida is one of five participating tissue mapping centers. Here at the UF Center, we are charged with mapping the thymus, lymph node, and spleen all key components of the immune system.
Our goal as a tissue mapping center is to identify the unique types of cells, which proteins they produce and which genes are turned on, and build a three-dimensional virtual model of each organ. This map will inform the research of many diseases, including Type 1 diabetes.
The latter group was collected to provide an understanding of a "normal" healthy pancreas. To date, we have collected the pancreas from more than 500 individuals.
Type 1 diabetes is but one of more than 80 known autoimmune diseases that, for reasons unknown, the immune system turns against itself. Beyond autoimmunity, immune responses are also a key constituent to health regarding fighting cancer and infectious disease.
Type 1 Diabetes
From our experience studying the pancreas and Type 1 diabetes, we see great strides in understanding the role of immunity in each of these settings through mapping. It will allow for a deep dive of how the immune system works.
In a healthy individual, T cells only become active when responding to infection or cancer cells. But in those predisposed to the autoimmune disease, certain T cells can become erroneously activated by "self" proteins, leading them to destroy healthy tissue.
In other circumstances like cancer or an infectious disease, the immune system fails to provide a robust enough response to be effective. Or cells of the immune system proliferate uncontrollably, leading to blood and lymphatic cancers like lymphomas and leukemias.
You might wonder where exactly we get these normal cells. As we have done over the past 11 years, we will obtain transplant-grade human tissues from deceased organ donors through Organ Procurement Organizations, after a family member or legal executor provides informed consent.
Only tissues considered "normal" unaffected by known or observable pathologies will be included in these initial studies. We will be collecting tissues from donors ranging from infants to adults up to 70 years old. We hope this will provide insights into how age alters the types and health of all the cells in each organ.
We are establishing an imaging pipeline to detect dozens of protein and RNA molecules that characterize nerve, blood vessel, the supportive tissue known as stroma, and immune cells from slices of tissue, using eight different forms of microscopy.