JCVI to Receive Grant from Chan Zuckerberg Initiative to Define the Language of Human Cell Classification

Researchers at J. Craig Venter Institute (JCVI), led by Richard Scheuermann, PhD, director of JCVI’s La Jolla Campus, have been awarded a grant from the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative DAF, an advised fund of Silicon Valley Community Foundation as part of the Human Cell Atlas project. JCVI will be building on our previous work in developing an expanded human cell ontology that scientists can use to classify cells and effectively communicate among one another.

On average there are around 30 to 40 trillion cells in the human body. Historically, cell types were defined by “low-resolution” experiments that identified characteristic features, such as anatomic locations, cellular structures, or cellular functions.

Technological advances have significantly increased the resolution and rate at which we are capturing data, leading to discovery of new cell types at an unprecedented rate. This rapid pace of discovery has revealed serious bottlenecks in our ability to define cell types for comparison across studies.

Through this new grant JCVI scientists will  develop minimum information standards, and statistical cell data matching approaches that scientists can use to describe human cells, using data from emerging technologies.

“Single cell genomics is revolutionizing our understanding of the cellular complexity of biological systems,” said Dr. Scheuermann. “We now need to expand our language for describing the different types of cells being identified so that scientists can share their discoveries in a meaningful way. This new project supported, by the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, will allow us to develop and disseminate these basic language tools to support this scientific knowledge sharing.”

Human cell classification is part of a broader Institute initiative focusing on single cell genomics. JCVI has been at the forefront of laboratory and computational genomic advancements since its founding, and is now applying this knowledge to a number of projects through the recently founded Center for Single Cell Genomics, including exploring the cellular complexity of the human brain, identifying abnormal cells driving autoimmune disease, and discovering the cellular determinants of effective vaccine responses.

About the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative

The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative was launched in December 2015 by Mark Zuckerberg, founder and CEO of Facebook, and Priscilla Chan, a pediatrician and founder and CEO of The Primary School in East Palo Alto. The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative is a new kind of philanthropy that seeks to engineer change at scale. By pairing world-class engineering with grant-making, impact investing, policy, and advocacy work, CZI hopes to build a future for everyone. Initial areas of focus include supporting science through basic biomedical research and education through personalized learning. CZI is also exploring ways to address barriers to justice and opportunity – from criminal justice reform, to expanded access, to economic opportunity and affordable housing.

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