Researchers from the Josep Carreras Institute received one of the five grants awarded worldwide by the Facebook founder’s Foundation to study COVID-19
The epigenetics and immune diseases group of the Josep Carreras Leukaemia research Institute, led by Dr Esteban Ballestar.
In May, the epigenetics and immune diseases group of the Josep Carreras Leukaemia Research Institute, led by Dr Esteban Ballestar, together with Roser Vento-Tormo (Sanger Institute, United Kingdom), obtained one of the five worldwide grants awarded by the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, a non-profit organisation owned by the Facebook founder, Mark Zuckerberg, and his wife, Dr Priscilla Chan. Each of the five groups that received this grant has worked independently on a specific theme relating to COVID-19.
The general objective of all the groups was to make an atlas of patients with COVID-19 studying different types of tissues (blood, nasal biopsies, pharynx biopsies, etc) to obtain an atlas of all the alterations of the gene expression that these patients have with different subthemes.
The five groups have recently made the first draft of the results available to the whole scientific and medical community worldwide.
In record time, Dr Ballestar’s group has generated the atlas belonging to COVID-19 patients who had a pre-existing immune disease (such as immunodeficiencies, rheumatoid arthritis, etc) to see whether these individuals have a more deficient or altered response compared with patients who have had COVID-19 but who do not have any pre-existing medical conditions.
The group is currently analysing these data and preparing a report with the conclusions of this study.
Each cell is different because, although they have the same genome, each one expresses a series of genes to be a specific cell type (a B lymphocyte, a macrophage, etc.). In response to different situations, what these cells are expressing also changes a little.
To do this work, the group has used single-cell technology to obtain the map of expressions of thousands of immune cells of each patient to understand how they communicate and cooperate with each other in response to the SARS-CoV-2 infection and to understand how these genes that each cell expresses before the presence of the SARS-CoV-2 virus are different genes between those individuals who have altered immunity and those who are healthy.
The Josep Carreras Institute is the only one in Spain that can use this technology for this kind of study because the equipment is in a special biosecurity chamber, which is what enables it to do so.