Three researchers from the Pritzker School of Molecular Engineering (PME) at the University of Chicago were selected for a grant from the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative (CZI) for the single-cell analysis of inflammation RFA. CZI is a philanthropy founded Dr. Priscilla Chan and Mark Zuckerberg.
The Pritzker Molecular Engineering researchers, Nicolas Chevrier, Andrew Ferguson, and Savas Tay, will each receive $175,000 for two years of research costs and staff salaries, for a total of $525,000 of funding.
Together, the three researchers and their labs will examine how an inflammatory signal—in this case, sepsis—spreads, and which individual cells send and receive information within tissues. Sepsis, a potentially life-threatening condition, happens when an infection triggers an inflammatory response that can damage multiple organ systems. The resulting data will enable the researchers to model and simulate sepsis, and lead to a better understanding of how inflammation spreads across the body.
Chevrier, the lead researcher on the project, said that because of this funding, each lab will be able to hire dedicated trainees and ensure they can conduct their research for at least the next two years.
“Having funding for this project for two years will really help us focus on the science and the problem we are trying to address,” Chevrier said. “It supports a high-risk, high-reward project by a truly interdisciplinary group of PME labs.”
Single-cell research that spans the entire body
Many inflammatory conditions start with damage or infection, and then quickly spread to other organs. It’s difficult to understand how inflammation spreads if you only study a single organ, but PME’s team of researchers will develop a method to capture the exact state of single cells—including where the cells are positioned—for a whole body.
Each lab will play a specific role in the research project. Chevrier Lab will work on creating new technologies to localize molecules and cells across the whole body of an animal model. In the future, this could have applications for whole human tissues and large biopsies.
Ferguson Lab will lead the development of computational tools needed to analyze the new kind of data that the researchers will generate. And Tay Lab will build microfluidics chips—custom-built circuits with very tiny structures to grow and analyze individual cells—which will help uncover the mechanistic details of the observations they make in animal models.
Sharing tools and finding new applications
This innovative approach to studying inflammation could lead to new health care applications and expand scientific knowledge of human health. Chevrier said that while the project will surely involve some trial and error, he fully expects the project to yield valuable results.
“Given the talented pool of trainees that are attracted to PME and the impressive track record of my teammates Andy and Savas, I am confident that we will find creative ways to overcome the challenges we face throughout the project,” he said.
The researchers aim to uncover key information about how inflammation spreads across the body and reveal new pathways that could be targeted for therapy. In addition, the new tools that are developed in the process will be broadly shared with other researchers to help fuel other investigations of organism-wide processes.
“We also hope to adapt some of our tools to impact how human tissues and biopsies are analyzed by greatly expanding the size of tissues or biopsies that can be processed and the number of molecules that can analyzed,” Chevrier said.
Research reported in this article will be supported by the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative.