Joshua Sanes, the Jeff C. Tarr Professor of Molecular and Cellular Biology and the Paul J. Finnegan Family Director for Harvard’s Center for Brain Science, will head a multi-institutional group charged with obtaining a complete accounting of all the cell types that make up the human eye. A grant supporting the work was recently awarded by the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative (CZI), a foundation headed by Mark Zuckerberg, the CEO of Facebook, and Priscilla Chan.
The stated mission of CZI is to use technology to “build a more inclusive, just, and healthy future for everyone.” Through its Human Cell Atlas (HCA) project, CZI is funding projects in which new single cell methods are used to map every type of cell in the human body. The aim is to create a baseline reference for biomedical research. Sanes’ work will focus on using single cell and single nucleus RNA-sequencing, computational inference, and histological analysis to map the cells of the eye throughout a normal human lifespan. With this basis, he and his colleagues will then be able to analyze ways in which cells change in blinding diseases such as macular degeneration and glaucoma.
Sanes is one of six members of the team, which includes Aviv Regev and Tommasso Bilancalani from the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard; Ayellet Segre and Tavé van Zyl from Harvard Medical School, Massachusetts Eye and Ear; Dejan Juric from Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Medical School, and Gregory Hageman from the University of Utah.
Their work will be supported for three years through CZI Seed Networks, which will also foster interdisciplinary collaboration with teams working on other organs. Several other teams are led by faculty at Harvard Medical School and Hospitals, giving Harvard a strong presence in this initiative.
Sanes’ work focuses on neural circuit assembly and development, with a particular focus on the retina. Though his lab’s research has mainly focused on retinas of model organisms.
“Our work has told us a lot about normal development and function, but it is increasingly accepted that understanding human disease requires understanding human cells,” says Sanes. “This generous award from CZI will allow us to redeploy some of our effort in that direction.”