Baylor College of Medicine

A partial cross-cut model of human lungs.

Digital atlas created for chronic lung disease

Kaylee Dusang


Houston, TX -

Chronic lung diseases are one of the leading causes of morbidity and death in diagnosed patients, but an innovative technology can help researchers further understand how these illnesses develop.

A study led by Dr. Ivan Rosas at Baylor College of Medicine and Dr. Naftali Kaminski from Yale School of Medicine develops the largest single-cell data set of a chronic lung disease by sequencing more than 300,000 cells from lungs affected with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF) and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). The results offer an online cell atlas that allows the public to explore the individual cells in lungs with the diseases. The full study is published in the journal Science Advances.

“This is a technological accomplishment and is a new perspective on the two diseases, but it is also the starting point for analysis that will lead to a better understanding of the disease and the development of therapy,” said Rosas, the co-lead researcher and co-senior author of the study and chief of pulmonary, critical care and sleep medicine in the Department of Medicine at Baylor.

Rosas explains that the cell atlas was achieved by separating all of the individual the cells within the lung and then measuring the expression of all the cells in each individual cell. Although this method has been done for other diseases, this is the largest single-cell gene expression dataset that has been completed in a chronic lung disease.

“When we analyzed the data we were surprised by how dramatically different were cells obtained from patients with IPF from all other lungs – we actually found cells that were not decsribed before, and this may have significant implications on diagnosis and management fo the disease,” said Kaminski, the co-senior author on the study and chief of pulmonary, critical care and sleep medicine at Yale.

“This data is now publicly available so it’s going to broadly impact science and these diseases,” Rosas said. “People can now download the data set and conduct their own independent analysis and research.”

Because physicians need a further understanding of chronic lung diseases like IPF, Rosas explains that having a large and accessible data set of IPF or COPD cells is an essential tool to begin developing therapies to target the disease.         

Rosas led the study during his time at Harvard Medical School in Boston. The continuation of studies on IPF will continue in laboratories at Baylor College of Medicine.

“It’s the starting point for more pointed research in terms of the pathogenesis and the mechanisms of the disease and also the potential therapy that could be derived from the information,” Rosas said.

The research is funded by the NIH National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute and a $1 million gift from the venture philanthropy group Three Lakes Partners, whose mission is to accelerate progress in IPF research.

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