Abu Dhabi: An Abu Dhabi-based Biology professor has been awarded funding by Chan Zuckerberg (CZI) to deliver a globally-inclusive immune cell atlas in rural and urban populations of African ancestry.
Dr Youssef Idaghdour, assistant professor of Biology at New York University (NYU) Abu Dhabi, is one among a number of international researchers and collaborators to build the African Ancestry Immune Cell Atlas as part of a $2.7 million (Dh9.92 million) project that focuses on studying immune cell variation on a population scale. This will power association studies between environmental, genetic and immunological variables.
“In order to develop effective treatments and cures for all people, it is essential that the biomedical community embraces diversity and orchestrates its efforts to increase representation in scientific research. To this end, the CZI grant will be extremely helpful in supporting our work on gene-environmental interactions in the immune system for the coming years, as we focus on African populations, starting with rural and urban populations in Morocco. Our plan is to expand the research to the UAE population, as well as other African and Asian populations under-represented in genetic studies,” Dr Idaghdour said.
The human immune system is composed of multiple interrelated and complementary sub-systems of defence that protect against pathogens and tumour cells. Immune cells are ideal as a model to study interactions, given the responsiveness of its components to a range of external factors including pathogens, stress, nutritional, social and other environmental factors. A cellular ‘road-map’ of ancestrally inclusive immune cell samples will provide fundamental metrics to define the diverse cells of the immune system.
This project is part of a larger plan that was announced by CZI, a philanthrocapitalist organisation that has earmarked $28 million (Dh102.85 million) in grants to be made available for inclusion of data from tissue samples from ancestrally diverse donors in the Human Cell Atlas (HCA). The programme consists of 16 teams of researchers — including single-cell biologists, tissue experts, computational biologists, and community-engaged researchers — representing 31 different countries, who are working on various tissues and biological systems. These new projects will provide insights into how genetic ancestry influences health and disease at the level of our cells, resulting in a scientific resource that will be more representative of the diversity found in the global human population.
CZI was founded in 2015 to help solve social challenges like disease eradication, education access and local community needs.