Newcastle BRC’s Professor Muzlifah Haniffa part of team to develop first cell atlas of human thymus gland
Professor Muzlifah Haniffa, NIHR Newcastle BRC Skin & Oral Disease Theme Lead, alongside researchers from the Wellcome Sanger Institute, Newcastle University and Ghent University, Belgium, has helped to map thymus tissue through the human lifespan to understand how it develops and makes vital immune cells called T cells. In the future, this information could help researchers to generate an artificial thymus and engineer improved therapeutic T cells.
Published in Science on 20th February, this human thymus atlas has revealed new cell types and identified signals that tell immature immune cells how to develop into T cells. The atlas could also help scientists understand diseases that affect T cell development such as severe combined immunodeficiency (SCID), and adds to the Human Cell Atlas initiative which is creating a Google map of the entire human body.
Professor Muzlifah Haniffa, a senior author of the study and the NIHR Newcastle Biomedical Research Centre’s Skin & Oral Disease Theme Lead, said:
“With this thymus cell atlas, we are unravelling the cellular signals of the developing thymus, and revealing which genes need to be switched on to convert early immune precursor cells into specific T cells. This is really exciting as in the future, this atlas could be used as a reference map to engineer T cells outside the body with exactly the right properties to attack and kill a specific cancer – creating tailored treatments for tumours.”
Image credit: Section through a developing human thymus, Kenny Roberts, Bayraktar lab, Wellcome Sanger Institute
- Publication: J E Park et al. (2020) A cell atlas of human thymic development defines T cell repertoire Formation. Science. DOI:10.1126/science.aay3224
- Full press release: https://www.sanger.ac.uk/news/view/origins-immune-system-mapped-opening-doors-new-cancer-immunotherapies
- More about our Skin & Oral Disease Theme