NOV 09, 2021 6:00 AM PST

Wikipedia, but Make It Immune Cells

WRITTEN BY: Tara Fernandez

Scientists have established the first searchable database of complex immune data, providing the foundations for a new era of cancer immunology research. The online platform unifies the ‘language’ used to describe the spectrum of phagocytic cell types and maps never-before-seen links between cellular biomarkers and disease.

Mononuclear phagocytes, or MNPs, are a diverse group of immune cells that include dendritic cells, monocytes, and macrophages. Among MNP’s main roles are to ‘chew up’ foreign material in the body and present the fragments to other immune cells to ignite an immune response against infection. These cells have been implicated as key players in many disease pathways such as cancer. Therefore, a clearer understanding of what these cells are and how they function can open up more possibilities in drug development.

The challenge for immunologists, however, is that until now, there has not been a standardized way of defining the multitude of different MNP subtypes. This lack of clarity has hampered progress in understanding exactly which MNP cells are involved in cancer, inflammation, and other conditions. For example, we know that the growth of tumors is influenced by a strong immune component, but it’s still unclear which macrophage subpopulations are involved.

To rise above this challenge, a team of scientists assembled with the goal of creating the first comprehensive database of MNP genetics using a standardized naming convention. Each MNP subpopulation profiled would also contain ‘tags’ linking it to specific functions in healthy and diseased states. This would result in the foundations of a searchable encyclopedia for immunologists, which could be fed additional datasets to expand our understanding of this dense network of cells.

The researchers drew upon a massive collection of 41 datasets containing information about 178,651 individual MNPs extracted from 13 different healthy and diseased tissue types. These were consolidated to generate a single-cell RNA compendium which they called the MNP-VERSE.

Using this publicly available tool, the team added an additional focus area, looking specifically at monocytes and macrophages and their role in cancer and inflammation. They found that a unique group of macrophages called IL41 cells accumulated on the outer surface of tumors. Instead of activating the immune system to fight tumors, these cells created an immunosuppressive environment, allowing the tumor cells to grow and flourish without immune intervention.

Together, the researchers see MNP-VERSE and the in-depth bioinformatics analyses they performed as a critical first step to developing next-generation therapies against difficult disease targets.


 

About the Author
  • Tara Fernandez has a PhD in Cell Biology and has spent over a decade uncovering the molecular basis of diseases ranging from skin cancer to obesity and diabetes. She currently works on developing and marketing disruptive new technologies in the biotechnology industry. Her areas of interest include innovation in molecular diagnostics, cell therapies, and immunology. She actively participates in various science communication and public engagement initiatives to promote STEM in the community.
You May Also Like
OCT 28, 2021
Cancer
NF-κB: a Trick or a Treat for Cancer?
OCT 28, 2021
NF-κB: a Trick or a Treat for Cancer?
A family of proteins, known as transcription factors, regulate the biological process of converting DNA into RNA. T ...
NOV 17, 2021
Health & Medicine
Nutrients for Reducing Autoimmune Disease Risk
NOV 17, 2021
Nutrients for Reducing Autoimmune Disease Risk
Want to reduce your chances of having your immune system turn on your body and start destroying your perfect health? Loo ...
NOV 25, 2021
Immunology
What's a T Cell COVID Vaccine and Could It Be Better Than What We Have?
NOV 25, 2021
What's a T Cell COVID Vaccine and Could It Be Better Than What We Have?
All vaccines train the immune system to recognize and wage war against pathogens such as viruses and bacteria. However, ...
NOV 22, 2021
Plants & Animals
The Lungfish is a Living Antimicrobial Sponge
NOV 22, 2021
The Lungfish is a Living Antimicrobial Sponge
African lungfish are incredible animals that survive in freshwater or on land. Research on lungfish has taught us more a ...
DEC 16, 2021
Health & Medicine
Could Stem Cells Cure Type 1 Diabetes?
DEC 16, 2021
Could Stem Cells Cure Type 1 Diabetes?
For people living with chronic diseases like Type 1 diabetes, the word "cure" sounds too good to be true. In f ...
JAN 06, 2022
Immunology
Worryingly High Levels of Free Radicals in COVID Patients
JAN 06, 2022
Worryingly High Levels of Free Radicals in COVID Patients
  COVID-19 infections trigger widespread oxidative damage, says new research by scientists from the Baylor College ...
Loading Comments...