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Chan Zuckerberg Initiative Grants $750K to COVID-19 Studies Using Single-Cell Methods

NEW YORK – The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative (CZI) announced Wednesday $750,000 in funding to support five projects studying COVID-19 with single-cell technologies.

"This work will generate some of the first single-cell biology datasets from donors infected by SARS-CoV2 and provide critical insights into how the virus infects humans, which cell types are involved, and how the disease progresses," CZI said in a statement.

The new grants will support projects led by investigators at Harvard Medical School, Massachusetts General Hospital, the Ragon Institute, the Broad Institute, Columbia University, Belgium's VIB-UGent, the UK's Wellcome Sanger Institute, and Spain's Josep Carreras Leukaemia Research Institute (IJC), with funding allocated equally among the five projects. The single-cell technologies to be used in each project were not disclosed.

Single-cell RNA sequencing data from the Human Cell Atlas, which CZI has supported in several ways, have already proved useful in identifying the cell types that SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, likely uses to enter the human body.

CZI has also funded a $13.6 million study of COVID-19 spread in the Bay Area.

Two projects will be led by researchers at the Broad Institute. The first will investigate host immune and cellular response to COVID-19 infection using single-cell analysis of 500 longitudinal blood samples as well as multiple tissue samples from 10 deceased patients. The second project will study the airways of 20 pediatric patients infected by SARS-CoV-2, 20 influenza patients, and 20 asymptomatic pediatric patients.

Researchers at Columbia University will explore the immune response in respiratory cells of COVID-19 patients and compare them with the response in the blood. They will use longitudinal sampling and analyze paired blood and tissue samples.

Researchers at Belgium's VIB-UGent will perform single-cell multi-omics studies of proteins as well as genes to better understand virus-host interactions, identify cell surface markers of pathogenic immune cells, map intracellular signaling circuits that drive cytokine storm seen in COVID-19 patients, and explore potential immunotherapy targets. 

Meanwhile, researchers at the Sanger Institute and IJC will obtain single-cell transcriptomes from up to 50 COVID-19 patients, including those with autoimmune diseases and patients diagnosed with common variable immunodeficiency.

All data generated by these projects will be made quickly available to the scientific community via open access datasets and portals, including CZI's cellxgene visualization tool.

"Single-cell technologies provide a powerful platform for researchers to understand the cellular basis of any disease — including COVID-19," CZI Head of Science Cori Bargmann said in a statement. "We're proud to continue supporting this fundamental resource and increase our collective ability to address the coronavirus pandemic."