The relatively new field of "Single Cell Analysis" - the simultaneous investigation of thousands of individual cells of a tissue or organ - has led to groundbreaking discoveries in biomedical research and revolutionized our understanding of the cellular mechanisms of diseases. Accordingly, there was great interest in the kick-off meeting of the DZL disease-spanning research field "Single Cell Analysis" *. More than 100 DZL researchers attended the symposium held at Zoom and contributed to the lively discussion. The symposium was organized by DZL members Herbert Schiller (ILBD/CPC-M, Helmholtz Zentrum München) and Christos Samakovlis (SciLifeLab Stockholm, UGLMC Giessen).
The meeting started with the eagerly awaited lecture by Peter Dorfmüller (Pathology, University of Giessen, UGMLC/DZL). He showed the participants the variety of microscopic changes in different lung diseases such as pulmonary hypertension, COVID19, and pulmonary fibrosis. These changes, visible under the microscope, usually reflect structural changes in lung tissue. However, initial applications of single-cell analyses have already provided first insights into specific changes in gene expression in cells that immediately catch the eye under the microscope because they change their shape or proliferate. Nevertheless, significant efforts by interdisciplinary research groups will still be required to simultaneously decipher which cells are located where in the tissue and what their gene expression profile looks like. Presentations by Martin Nawijn (UGMC Groningen), Alexander Misharin
(Northwestern University Chicago), and Susanne Herold (University of Giessen, UGMLC/DZL), among others, presented the international `Human (Lung) Cell Atlas' project and showed how novel organoid models might help study various diseases processes outside the body in the future.
Novel X-ray imaging creates high resolution for the entire lung in 3D
One theme ran like a thread through the entire symposium: the combination of single-cell data with high-resolution imaging. The talk by Willi Wagner (University of Heidelberg, TLRC/DZL) was particularly well received. He presented the current progress in generating extremely high-resolution X-ray tomography images of the human lung. The X-ray tomography images he showed achieve magnification and resolution comparable to classical microscopy images, but of the entire lung - and in 3D. The images accordingly caused enthusiasm among the participants. The presentation by Joakim Lundeberg (SciLifeLab Stockholm) on the Spatial Transcriptomics technology developed by his research group - i.e., the assignment of individual cells with a specific gene expression profile to particular locations on microscopic images - also led to a lively discussion about the possibilities and weaknesses of this same technology.
DZL platform Biobanking and Data Management plays a central role in single-cell analysis
The symposium considered that the evaluation of single-cell analyses is playing an increasingly important role by dedicating a separate session to this topic. The two speakers and DZL PIs, Malte Lücken and Fabian Theis (ICB, Helmholtz Zentrum München), demonstrated the possibilities of collecting and evaluating single-cell analyses from different studies or clinical cohorts in combination with demographic data. This allows researchers to decipher which cellular changes in the lung occur physiologically during the aging process and which pathological changes determine a particular disease's early or final stage. It became apparent that in the future, the DZL's Biobanking & Data Management platform, as well as the DZL Data Warehouse, will play a central role in the integrated analysis of single-cell data from different clinical cohorts and clinical electronic medical records.
The kick-off meeting showed that single-cell analyses have a key role in lung disease research. Or, as co-organizer Herbert Schiller put it, "Because the circuits from single cells and the gene programs that control them, as a functional unit, are the key to detecting the state of a tissue and predicting its future state or intervening therapeutically."
* Within the framework of the third funding period of the DZL, for the first time, cross-sectional topics are to be jointly researched that span the disease areas - so-called disease-spanning research fields. One of these is single-cell analysis. The aim is for research groups that generally work on different lung diseases to cooperate closely in applying new methods and algorithms and to gain new insights by comparing the disorders.