Published April 8, 2019 | Developmental Cell

Biomedical researchers from Cincinnati Children’s and 18 other research centers in five nations are joining together to build the world’s first Pediatric Cell Atlas (PCA), according to an open-access perspective article laying out the potential value of such a project.

Drawing on recent advances in microfluidics, imaging, computational sciences, and other technologies, a Pediatric Cell Atlas would offer an unprecedented window into the biology of human growth and development. The atlas would detail the compositions, structures and activities of constellations of single cells responsible for the development and growth of all tissues and organs.

“Healthy organ development is extremely complicated,” says Bruce Aronow, PhD, a co-first author of the article. “Each tissue has its own unique context of incredibly specialized, diverse, and extensively communicating cell populations undergoing vastly different gene expression programs.”

This giant set of computational models would help document what is normal for everything from brain development to how the immune system forms—and would do so as a child grows from birth to full adulthood. Once armed with this set of computational models, scientists could compare data to understand in fine detail how genetic variations and environmental exposures combine to lead to illness and disease.

“Constructing normal and parallel disease models for each tissue at the single-cell level provides a tremendous opportunity for translational research,” says senior author Peter White, PhD, director, Biomedical Informatics. “This has the promise to significantly speed up the development of novel therapies and further empower precision medicine approaches.”

The pediatric atlas is part of a broader international consortium, the Human Cell Atlas (HCA). Pediatric data will be shared among project members and other researchers worldwide.