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The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative (CZI) has provided $2 million in funding to investigate how our ancestry and diversity influence the way that vaccines work in our cells.

Syringe containing liquid vaccine © Anna Shvets from Pexels

Professor Mark Coles and Associate Professor Brian Marsden, from the Kennedy Institute of Rheumatology, NDORMS, join investigators across several departments of the University of Oxford, to understand and ultimately to predict how humans respond to vaccination at a single-cell level 

In partnership with Imperial College London and the Uganda Virus Research Institutethe Lymph nodE single-cell Genomics AnCestrY (LEGACY) Network will create an ethnically diverse single-cell atlas of the response to commonly used vaccines such as flu vaccine with a focus on responses in lymph nodes. The LEGACY team will simultaneously creating universally available on-line materials as resources for further research. 

The Oxford researchers will analyse samples provided by Imperial College using single-cell technology and genetic, functional and serological assays to generate the atlas and data resource. The funds cover the costs of sample analysis, creation of the team performing the functional and computational analyses, community outreach initiatives and training costs for capacity building in Uganda. 

Such projects have the potential to significantly advance understandings of how vaccines stimulate immunity across ethnicities and provide new insights for future efforts in vaccine designThis is important, given that the COVID-19 pandemic demonstrated how emerging infections can disproportionately affect different ethnic populations. Combating global infectious threats to human health also requires vaccine development at an unprecedented speed, as exemplified by the ground-breaking COVID-19 research generated by Oxford. 

Mark Coles, Professor of Immunology said: “Single cell biology provides a powerful tool to understand how vaccines work and provide new insights into how to improve, accelerate and de-risk the next generation of vaccines, incorporating an understanding of how ancestry diversity impacts on vaccine function. 

The resources created by the LEGACY Network will serve as a foundation for overcoming differences in vaccine efficacy associated with ancestry, and for accelerating and promoting equity in vaccine research. Fundamental to its vision is community outreach, engaging ethnic minority communities in the UK, and also building capacity in low- to medium-income countries (LMICs) to perform single-cell research in this area. This is critical as LMICs often shoulder a disproportionate burden of major infectious diseases.   

CZI Program Manager for Single-Cell Biology Norbert Tavares, said: To create effective treatments and cures for all people, the biomedical community must work to increase representation in scientific research. About 80 percent of current genomic data is from people of European ancestry, which has to change. 

The Ancestry Networks for the Human Cell Atlas will bring a much-needed perspective to single-cell research and provide key insights into how ancestry impacts healthy and disease states and has the potential to inform the path to treatments. 

Calliope Dendrou, a Sir Henry Dale Fellow and Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Champion from the Wellcome Centre for Human Geneticsand the lead from the University of Oxford, said: Lymph nodes are small organs that are home to the cells that respond to vaccines. Remarkably, very little is known about how they work in humans after vaccination and even less is understood about how ancestral diversity could affect this. Now we have the chance to study them at the single-cell level for the benefit of all. Moreover, we aim to democratise research in this field by providing clinical, experimental and computational training to junior clinicians and scientists from LMICs, and leaving a legacy of empowered and aspirational researchers. 

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