Cell atlases to facilitate the diagnosis and treatment of different diseases

Two teams from the CRG have studied in depth the gene expression of blood cells and immune cells that infiltrate tumors.

The creation of cell atlases has been possible thanks to the analysis of gene expression. Composition by Mario Ejarque, photos by Volodymyr Hryshchenko and the National Cancer Institute on Unsplash.

Two teams from the Centre for Genomic Regulation (CRG), in collaboration with several institutions in Germany, have developed atlases based on the gene expression of different cell lines to improve clinical diagnoses of hematological diseases and promote precision oncology, respectively.

Blood cells atlas

Researchers at the CRG collaborated in the creation of the most detailed atlas of blood cells and human bone marrow to date.

The study was based on the analysis of the gene expression of more than 100,000 cells and it could serve to improve current diagnostic techniques.

“Flux citometry relies on markers and methodologies from the 90s that have been shown to be highly inaccurate. We need to define markers that more closely reflect the biology of the system”
Lars Velten, group leader at the CRG and author of the study.

The analysis provides new information about blood formation and what happens when this process fails. Thus, with the markers found in the study, the diagnosis and prediction of blood diseases such as leukemia could be improved.

Immune cells of human cancers

Another research team, from CNAG-CRG, analyzed the tumor microenvironment – the collection of blood cells, immune cells and connective tissue in the immediate vicinity of a tumor. Specifically, more than 300,000 immune cells from 217 patients and 17 different tumor types were studied.

“This cell atlas of immune cells helps us visualise tumours in ways we have never been able to before”
Holger Heyn, leader of the Single Cell Genomics Team at the CNAG-CRG and last author of the study.

After the analysis, they defined 6 immunological profiles that allow the classification of the tumor according to the types, states and locations of the immune cells infiltrated within it. Determining this immune profile of the tumor could help predict whether a patient will benefit from immunotherapy.

With these results, the authors expect the atlas “to be predictive for patient prognosis and immunotherapy response to a level that greatly exceeds currently applied stratification strategies.”

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