Researchers at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center and other scientists across the country are embarking on a massive project. They're building a giant map called the Pediatric Cell Atlas. It will offer an unprecedented window into the unique biology of children.
Researchers already know kids' cells are constantly changing in ways adults' do not. What they don't know is precisely how those changes occur.
"Let's say a kid is not growing well and we want to compare his cells to cells that other normal kids would normally show during a growth phase," says Bruce Aronow, Ph.D., co-director of the Computational Medicine Center at Cincinnati Children's. "We can directly compare their signature to this map."
The Pediatric Cell Atlas will study:
- Normal tissues
- Disease-related tissues
- Lifespan analysis
Ultimately, researchers could leverage knowledge from single-cell data into a deeper understanding of organ development and function.
"We can learn a lot from the atlas itself. But then, in individual cases, we then compare everything we know from this reference atlas," says Aronow,
Once the giant 3D map is finished it will be easier to understand when and how things go wrong. For example: is a child's immune system responding to infection; is their metabolism processing food into energy instead of fat; or is their brain functioning the way it should?
Eventually the map could reveal problems that may be controlled by diet or new medications. It could also suggest new approaches to hard-to-solve problems like drug addiction and suicide risk.
It will take a long time to create this high-definition view of children's health. Right now, scientists are collecting cells to set a baseline. Aranow describes the creation of such a massive project as harder than mapping the human genome.
The open-access perspective article about the Atlas was posted online March 28 in Developmental Cell.