Pitt Researchers Part of the Team That Received Renewable Funding to Run Google Maps for Cells

Getting from Point A to Point B has never been easier thanks to digital maps on our smartphones. With one tap, we can plan a route to the grocery store, select a hiking route, or choose the perfect vacation destination. Soon, biomedical researchers will have a similar tool for navigating easily through the vast network of cells in the human body.

The Atlas of Human Biomolecules ProgramHuBMAP, or HuBMAP, is an international consortium of researchers with a common goal of developing a global atlas of healthy cells in the human body. Once completed, the resource will be made freely available to drug developers and clinical researchers who can use it to shape the development of specialized medical treatments.

Dr. Jonathan Silverstein

The idea behind HuBMAP is similar to the National Institutes of Health’s Human Genome Project, which sequenced every gene in the human body. Completed nearly 20 years ago, this massive project has led to a renaissance in clinical research and laid the foundation for innovative approaches to gene-based therapies. But instead of collecting genetic information at the level of the whole organism, HuBMAP delves into the goal of mapping gene expression, proteins, metabolites and other information in different types of cells across various organs and tissues.

The next step to transform this vast wealth of data into an easy-to-use tool is managed by the bioinformatics experts at University of PittsburghThe Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center (PSC), Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) and Stanford University. The teams recently received $20 million in revolving funding from the National Institutes of Health to continue these efforts.

“Creating an ecosystem that can connect all the different pieces of data into one big knowledge source is hard work, but that’s what this team is particularly expert at. We are good at integrating and running all kinds of different programs,” said co-chair of the Pittsburgh Infrastructure and Engagement component, Dr. Jonathan Silverstein, Professor atDepartment of Biomedical InformaticsIn House.

The team is led by Silverstein, who is also chief research informatics officer at Pitt and UPMCInstitute of Precision MedicineAnd the and PSC Scientific Director Dr. Phil Blood, they will embark on a long journey to clarify vast amounts of data at the molecular level from thousands of tissue samples collected at more than 60 institutions across the country. A locally maintained and developed hybrid cloud infrastructure is used for data integration and software development to shape the resulting library of genetic and protein signatures of healthy cells into a comprehensive map.

Computational tools component HuBMAP, led by Dr. Matthew Ruffalo of CMU’s Department of Computational Biology, has developed computational pipelines to process these molecular datasets, allowing for efficient data integration across data types, tissues, and more.

The team also participates in projects aimed at creating a profile Atlas of Aging and Aging Cells (SenNet) and building a framework for studying the molecular markers of breast cancer.

“In addition to the research, the HuBMAP and SenNet consortiums really help shape the ecosystem and culture around the projects this work will impact,” said Kay Metis, SenNet Program Director at Pete. “This project has the potential to impact Alzheimer’s disease and aging research and make a huge difference in the direction of medical research in the future. I would love to be part of the effort to contribute to the social impact of what a project of this size can achieve.”

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