Yale University joins new biomedical research collaboration funded by Zuckerberg

Yale University joins new biomedical research collaboration funded by Zuckerberg

The Chan Zuckerberg Biocenter in New York plans to connect researchers to work on engineering immune cells to fight disease.

Hannah Mark

12:38 AM, November 6, 2023

Staff reporter

An Hui Qing

A new collaboration at Yale University hopes to shed new light on the body’s immune system, with key backers joining the project.

Last month, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, an organization owned by Facebook founders Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan, announced the launch of a new biomedical research center in New York City linking researchers from Columbia, Rockefeller University, and Yale. The center will be called Chan Zuckerberg Biohub New York, or CZ Biohub NY, and will be based in Manhattan, with satellite sites on the campuses of Columbia and Yale universities.

According to the participating researchers, the Biohub hopes to invest resources in long-term biomedical research.

“The idea of ​​these critical centers is to bring people together from multiple disciplines and address challenges that would take 10 to 15 years of risky work,” said John Tsang, director of the Yale Center for Engineering Systems and Immunobiology, who is leading the charge. CZ Biohub NY Committee and wrote the original research proposal for the project.

CZ Biohub NY is the newest research institute in the Chan Zuckerberg Biohub network.

While each of the four institutes in the CZ Biohub network focuses on different projects, the overall goal of the research is to understand disease mechanisms and develop technology to help diagnose and treat diseases.

CZ Biohub NY will focus on studying immune cells and bioengineering. As an immunologist, Tsang told the News he is interested in using the Biohub to explore how immune system cells detect and monitor diseases in the body, even before disease symptoms appear through external surveillance.

“The immune system is basically involved in all diseases, because it’s the system where you have cells running around your entire body, and the cells are monitoring what’s going on,” Tsang said.

Part of the Biohub’s work will be to understand how immune cells travel through the body and how they respond to new biological information.

The Biohub team will also work on engineering immune cells to detect abnormalities in tissues and repair damage before it leads to disease, according to Tsang. This type of technology could be applied to predict and treat diseases including cancer and autoimmune diseases such as type 1 diabetes, Tsang told the News.

“It’s really like running the magic school bus,” Tsang said. “This is really very uplifting in my mind.”

According to Andrea Califano, chair of the Chan Zuckerberg BioHub New York and head of the systems biology department at Columbia University Irving Medical Center, this type of research is not being done anywhere else.

Califano pointed to two key characteristics that make the Biohub’s goals achievable: the funding structure and the collaborative model.

“It’s a whole new level of science to achieve,” Califano said.

The Biohub, which is funded through philanthropy, operates on a predetermined budget, allowing it to conduct high-risk research that would not normally be funded through general research grants such as those awarded through the National Institutes of Health, Califano said. This funding allows the Biohub to conduct research beyond the scope of the university lab, Califano said.

The Biohub brings together three complementary research institutions with strengths in different areas of biology, immunology and data science to create a multi-institutional, multi-disciplinary collaboration, Califano said.

“When I first came up with the idea, I thought it was just science fiction, but then when I started working with my colleagues, we realized that all the key ingredients were already in place,” Califano told the news. “This is science that no single university can do.”

This scope of research is ambitious because there is still a lot about the immune system that scientists don’t understand, said Andrew Wang, MD, a professor of rheumatology at the School of Medicine, who is not affiliated with the CZ Biohub New York.

Wang added that the same immune cell can behave differently depending on the situation and location in the body, a phenomenon that still puzzles researchers. As a result, Wang said the type of research the Biohub will conduct should be a “simultaneous dive” into all aspects of the immune system. But Wang said he is optimistic about what the initiative can achieve.

“It is efforts like these that ultimately lead to significant impacts,” he added. “I’m excited to see what comes out of it.”

The Chan Zuckerberg Biohub was announced by Priscilla Chan and Mark Zuckerberg on December 7, 2021.

Hannah Mark

Hannah Mark covers science and society and occasionally writes for WKND. Originally from Montana, she is a third-year student majoring in the history of science, medicine, and public health.

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