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UC Irvine-Led Team Wins $4M Chan Zuckerberg Initiative Grant for Breast Cell Atlas

NEW YORK — A University of California, Irvine-led research group has received $4 million from the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative (CZI) to build a map of human breast cells for the Human Cell Atlas, the university said this week.

The Human Cell Atlas was launched in 2016 to create a reference atlas of all human cell types. The project is using single-cell genomics approaches to produce 3D maps of how different cells function together, and how changes in these networks can lead to disease. CZI has been providing funding to a number of groups contributing to the atlas, including the New York Genome Center and collaborators last month

UC Irvine said that the funding will support a team of its scientists who, in partnership with investigators at the MD Anderson Cancer Center and Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, will generate a high-resolution, multidimensional depiction of the cell types and states in human breast tissue, as well as their variation across women. This resource is expected to serve as a reference for studying conditions such as breast cancer, mastitis, and lactation failure. 

In a pilot study, the team profiled over 200,000 breast tissue cells from 20 individuals across 12 cell types and 31 states. The group now aims to build a breast cell atlas of 100 women of multiple ages, breast sizes and densities, ethnicities, and body mass indices with varied numbers of pregnancies and at different menstrual cycle and menopausal stages, the university said.

"This work will provide invaluable new details about the complexity of the organ and how it functions in diverse populations, which will facilitate new breakthroughs in our knowledge of how breast cancer arises," UC Irvine researcher Devon Lawson, who is co-leading the project, said in a statement. "I am confident that our work will impact the treatment of breast cancer patients in both the short and long term."