Scientists develop 'Twitter' for cells

phys.org | 1/8/2020 | Staff
chrismpottschrismpotts (Posted by) Level 3
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Computational biologists led by Prof. Yvan Saeys (VIB-UGent Center for Inflammation Research) developed a new bioinformatics method to better study communication between cells. This method, called NicheNet, helps researchers to gain insight into how the gene expression of cells is regulated by interacting cells. NicheNet has a broad range of potential applications in fields like immunology and tumor biology, and was already successfully used by the collaborating group of Prof. Martin Guilliams (VIB-UGent Center for Inflammation Research).

In multicellular organisms, cells don't function on their own, but they produce signaling molecules that influence gene expression in interacting cells. This intercellular communication plays an important role in many biological processes, such as the development and functioning of cells. Studying intercellular communication is not only important to understand fundamental biology, but also to gain insights into diseases like cancer. Interactions between cancer cells and other cells in the microenvironment of the tumor are crucial for its growth.

Example - Process - Communication - Differentiation - Macrophages

An example of a process in which intercellular communication is essential, is the differentiation of macrophages, a type of immune cell. This process is affected by other cell types in the environment, or "niche," of the macrophage.

Researchers from the group of Martin Guilliams (VIB-Ghent Universiry), who work in close collaboration with the Saeys lab, wanted to study this process for Kupffer cells, a macrophage in the liver blood stream. They generated a lot of gene expression data of all cells involved.

Type - Data - Cells - Task - Yvan

"But using this type of data to unravel how cells communicate is not a trivial task," says Yvan Saeys. "We needed to develop a new sophisticated algorithm to tackle this problem."

Guided by post-doc Wouter Saelens and Yvan Saeys, Ph.D. student Robin Browaeys started developing such a new method to analyze how cells might signal each other.

Browaeys - Idea - Use

Browaeys explains: "Our idea was to make use of...
(Excerpt) Read more at: phys.org
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