A month ago, the historic milestone of deciphering the entire genetic code book of the human body (the genome), was made public. The genes are found on the chromosomes. These chromosomes are then located in the nucleus cells. Therefore, the next step is to create a human-cell map. This will allow us to understand how cells work against certain diseases and help us design better treatments. The previous step, however, has been accomplished: the creation of the first cellular Atlas of the entire human body by a non-human primate. This opens up a new avenue for research into human pathologies.
Advanced sequencing technology allows for individual cells to be analysed with great precision and sensitivity. A team of 35 researchers from countries including the United Kingdom, Spain, Germany, Italy and Singapore examined 45 tissues and organs taken from adult macaque monkeys (Macaca facicularis). They obtained 1.14 million single-cell data points, and identified 113 major cell types. These results were published in Nature.
Long-tailed macaques are chosen because they are a non-human primate. This means that they have the closest relationship to humans. It also gives us an approximate understanding of how our cells react to disease.
This database can be used to identify cell types that could contribute to human diseases or make people more vulnerable to them, develop methods to diagnose and treat disease, evaluate the efficacy and effectiveness of clinical drugs, analyze cell evolutionary between species, and analyze advanced cognitive functions in the brain.
Covid-19 is characterized by pneumonia. However, SARS-CoV-2 can infect a small number of cells in the lung. It can also infect cells in the liver and kidneys. Single-cell mapping of macaques can be used to help doctors identify signs and symptoms of Covid-19 in patients.
This tool can also identify which cells metabolize fat calories, allowing researchers the opportunity to study the causes of obesity. It will also determine which cells control neuronal circuits in brains, which could help to develop treatments for these diseases.
Pura Munoz Canoves, a professor at Pompeu University Fabra and a researcher at the National Center for Cardiovascular Research, said that the work would be a "fundamental and very useful reference for future research on primates, including human beings." Dr. Xu Xun is co-author and director of BGI-Research in China, which has created the data sequencing platform.
"This study fills in the gap in non-human primates' single-cell maps and provides a rich data resource to support future species evolution, brain science and drug evaluation and screening as well as clinical research. Miguel A. Esteban from Jilin University and Guangzhou Institutes of Biomedicine and Health (Chinese Academy of Sciences), adds that the Spanish authors also did preclinical research.
Researchers warn that although cells between monkeys, humans, and other species may look the same, they have found that their sensitivity to certain drugs can differ in some cases. Therefore, a treatment that works in animals might not work in people. These data should be used with caution when applied to human diseases.