On January 30th and 31st, ten groups from Germany, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, Israel and Italy came together or the first consortium meeting of ESPACE, an international project on the single-cell analysis of the human pancreas that is led by Professor Roland Eils, chair and founding director of the Digital Health Center at the BIH and Charité in Berlin, and supported by LINQ. ESPACE is one of six pilot actions funded by H2020 as the European contribution to the Human Cell Atlas, a global initiative in which researchers around the world are joining forces to profile every single cell in the human body. LINQ is in charge of project management of the ESPACE project, responsible for its dissemination activities, and also coordinating the joint web presence of all six cluster projects.
Brain, lung, uterus – each of the H2020 pilot actions will deliver a different building block to the Human Cell Atlas. The ESPACE project will investigate the pancreas, an organ which performs highly important functions in the human body: One the one hand, the pancreas controls blood sugar levels through the production of hormones such as insulin and glucagon. On the other hand, it aids digestion through the production and secretion of enzymes. Consequently, pancreatic malfunctions can lead to the development of diabetes, to inflammation of the pancreas, or – in the worst case – pancreatic cancer.
ESPACE brings together experts in medicine, biology, mathematics, computer science, chemistry and physics who will closely examine the many different cell types in the pancreas and study their gene activity, to better understand how this organ functions in a healthy state, but also with the ultimate goal to help improve diagnosis, monitoring and treatment of human pancreatic diseases.
Much like in the Human Genome Project, which saw scientists around the world work together over several decades to sequence the complete human genome, the Human Cell Atlas is a gigantic task that can only be achieved in a global effort. Eventually, the many individual contributions will come together to create a cell map of the entire human body, thus significantly advancing our understanding of how human life functions.