BIDMC Team Joins NIH Initiative Creating Human Cellular Map

Chloe Meck cmeck@bilh.org

OCTOBER 19, 2022

Researchers Will Analyze Lymphatic Tissue at the Molecular Level To Increase Understanding of Lymphatic Disease

BOSTON – Experts estimate that there are more than 37 trillion cells in the human body. The ways in which cells interact with each other impact a person’s health, though how they cooperate — or fail to, potentially leading to disease — is not always clear. In a monumental undertaking to learn more about the relationship between cell function and health, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) launched the Human BioMolecular Atlas Program (HuBMAP) to develop a framework for mapping the human body cell by cell. Now, a team led by researchers at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC) are joining the national program and will be the first HuBMAP group responsible for mapping human lymphatic system at the molecular level.

The BIDMC-led lymphatics HuBMAP consortium, also known as a tissue mapping center, will receive a total of $4 million over four years to collect and analyze a range of lymphatic tissues from a diverse set of tissue donors. The team hopes their findings will shed light on causes of lymphatic diseases, such as lymphedema, which affects as many as 200 million people worldwide.

“Despite the importance of the lymphatic system in fighting infection and maintaining fluid balance, the fact that lymph is clear and that lymphatic vessels are ten times smaller than other vessels has resulted in this system being all but forgotten,” said Dhruv Singhal, MD, director of the Boston Lymphatic Center at BIDMC. “HuBMAP’s support will allow us to dive deep into uncovering the origins of lymphatic diseases with the goal of discovering novel approaches to treatment, care management and prevention.”

“We are honored to partner with the NIH and its HuBMAP consortium to advance our understanding of cellular roles and interactions in health and disease,” said Ioannis Vlachos, PhD, director of the Spatial Technologies Unit at BIDMC. “It is an ambitious, nation-wide effort aiming to create a new generation of human body maps in unparalleled resolution. Our goal is to ultimately be able to characterize all healthy tissues at the cellular and molecular level, which will lead to the opportunity of dramatically transforming approaches in medical care.”

HuBMAP researchers accelerate the development of and utilize the latest molecular and cellular biology technologies to construct high resolution 3D spatial maps of human organs and tissues. The tools and findings developed through HuBMAP are shared on an open data platform intended for use not just by other HuBMAP members, but also the global research community.

“In parallel, high resolution 3D imaging of the lymphatic system is being developed with the ultimate goal of integrating both molecular and anatomic maps,” explained Leo Tsai, MD, PhD, clinical director of Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) at BIDMC.

Playing key roles in HuBMAP efforts, the Boston Lymphatic Center at BIDMC will provide world-class multi-disciplinary expertise in the lymphatic system as well as lymphatic tissue for analysis. BIDMC’s Spatial Technologies Unit will provide extensive equipment support and expertise for the generation of the cellular maps. These teams will work closely together, along with collaborators at the University of Southern California and other institutions, to study lymphatic tissue.

Additional members of the lymphatics tissue mapping center include co-principal investigator Young-Kwon Hong of the University of Southern California; Gordon Jiang of BIDMC; Max Itkin of the University of Pennsylvania; and Eugene Butcher of Stanford University.

About Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center

Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center is a patient care, teaching and research affiliate of Harvard Medical School and consistently ranks as a national leader among independent hospitals in National Institutes of Health funding. BIDMC is the official hospital of the Boston Red Sox.

Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center is a part of Beth Israel Lahey Health, a health care system that brings together academic medical centers and teaching hospitals, community and specialty hospitals, more than 4,800 physicians and 36,000 employees in a shared mission to expand access to great care and advance the science and practice of medicine through groundbreaking research and education.