Study Reveals the Mapping of the Human Immune System

In a recent 2020 paper published in Science, researchers from the Wellcome Sanger Institute, Newcastle University, and Ghent University, Belgium, mapped thymus tissue throughout the human lifespan. They were looking to better understand how T cells, which are human immune cells, are produced by the thymus gland. T cells are released from the thymus gland and enter the bloodstream, ready to wipe out any foreign invaders in the body. The research is going to be added to the Human Cells Atlas initiative, which is a new Google map of the human body.

If a person has problems in thymus development, this can result in insufficient T cell regulation. Dr Jongeun Park, from the Wellcome Sanger Institute, and his team analyzed over 200,000 single cells from the developing thymus in both child and adult thymus tissue. Looking at subtypes of T cells and gene tags to map the locations of cells in the thymus gland. Park stated: “We have produced a first human thymus cell atlas to understand what is happening in the healthy thymus across our lifespan, from development to adulthood, and how it provides the ideal environment to support the formation of T cells. This openly available resource will allow researchers worldwide to understand how the immune system develops to protect our body.”

The study is being used to establish which genes should be switched on to upregulate the immune system and the production of the right subtypes of T cells. The findings and mapping of the immune system is an exciting new project that’s putting the “jigsaw pieces together to get a bigger picture of how immunity develops.” Senior author, Dr Sarah Teichmann, from the Wellcome Sanger Institute and co-chair of the Human Cell Atlas Organising Committee, said: “This map of the thymus is an important part of the Human Cell Atlas mission to chart every cell type in the human body. It is helping us learn about developmental pathways within the body, and the age-associated decline of the immune system. This has applications in cellular engineering, including the possibility of creating an artificial thymus for regenerative medicine.”

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