“The lung is a very complex organ and only now, by using new technologies, multiple cell types have been identified.” – Mauricio Rojas, MD, The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center
In a remarkable scientific breakthrough, the largest and most comprehensive map of human lung cells has been unveiled, leaving researchers in awe. Published in Nature Medicine, the Human Lung Cell Atlas showcases the tremendous diversity of cell types within the lung and highlights crucial disparities between health and disease. This groundbreaking resource promises to revolutionize lung research and inspire new avenues of exploration.
Pooling data from nearly 40 studies, scientists have successfully constructed the first-ever integrated single-cell atlas of the lung. This extraordinary accomplishment exposes rare cell types and illuminates significant cellular distinctions between individuals with healthy lungs. Moreover, the study uncovers striking similarities in cell states between lung fibrosis, cancer, and COVID-19, offering fresh insights into the understanding of lung diseases and presenting potential novel targets for therapeutic interventions.
Part of the global Human Cell Atlas initiative, which aims to map every cell type in the human body, this study represents a significant stride towards unraveling the intricacies of health, infection, and disease. Single-cell studies have played a pivotal role in lung research by revealing gene activity within each cell. However, these studies have been limited by sample size and the number of individuals included. Consequently, the urgent need for a comprehensive atlas of healthy lungs to comprehend disease mechanisms has remained unfulfilled.
Now, a collaborative team of researchers has triumphantly merged 49 lung datasets into a singular, integrated Atlas using advanced machine learning techniques. This monumental achievement encompasses an astonishing 2.4 million cells from 486 individuals, providing unprecedented insights into lung biology that were previously inconceivable.
While the core of the Human Lung Cell Atlas consists of data from healthy lungs, the team also incorporated datasets from over 10 different lung diseases, projecting them onto the healthy data to grasp disease states. Notably, the study identified shared immune cell states among different lung diseases, particularly observing a subset of macrophages displaying similar gene activity in lung fibrosis, cancer, and COVID-19. This shared genetic profile suggests a potential common role of these cells in scar formation within the lung across all three diseases, opening up exciting prospects for therapeutic targets.
The Lung Atlas Integration project stands as a testament to international collaboration, boasting nearly 100 partners from over 60 departments. As part of the Human Cell Atlas Lung Biological Network, born from the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative Seed Networks and the European Union-funded lung network DiscovAIR, the team’s united efforts have resulted in this groundbreaking achievement. Originating from the urgent need to understand COVID-19, the single-cell lung communities swiftly rallied together, culminating in the formation of the HCA Lung Biological Network and the subsequent global integration of all available data.
As the first integrated major organ within the Human Cell Atlas initiative, the Human Lung Cell Atlas now stands as a publicly accessible and invaluable resource for researchers worldwide. This central repository promises to propel lung research to unprecedented heights, offering an unparalleled opportunity to explore the intricate workings of the lung in both health and disease.