Human Cell Atlas researchers at the Broad Institute have released a new dataset containing information on nearly 530,000 immune cells from umbilical cord blood and bone marrow. The dataset, which is one of the largest of its kind and contains primary data and associated metadata, has been made freely accessible via a preview site online. At the same time, researchers from the Wellcome Sanger Institute released data regarding human and mouse immune and stromal cells.

The Human Cell Atlas consortium hopes to create an initial draft atlas of roughly 30 million cells from as many tissues as possible. As part of this ambition, several groups of researchers have been investigating the cells present within the immune system to establish their functions and interactions.

“The immune system is deeply complex, involved in many diseases, and distributed throughout our body. This data set will be critical to help unlock its secrets,” said Monika Kowalczyk, MD, PhD, a Haemotologist who led the experimental team responsible at the Broad Institute.

The team generated this dataset by isolating single cells from human cord blood and bone marrow samples and then sequencing them. In order for the experiment to run to the planned timeframe, the team needed to handle 224,000 cells from four patients within 20 minutes, far more than is common in traditional experiments. Once sequenced, the raw data from the samples was passed onto a team of computational biologists for quality assessment and analysis.

“Collecting and processing half a million immune cells was a Herculean feat, involving tightly coordinated teamwork across many areas of expertise,” said Danielle Dionne, PhD, a member of the Klarman Cell Observatory at the Broad.

Alongside the Broad’s release, another team of researchers at the Wellcome Sanger Institute released their own datasets, containing information on immune and stromal cells in mice and humans. This data has been made accessible on the same website as the Broad’s work. The cells in question were obtained from human spleen samples and from a widely used mouse tumour model.

“This is the first single-cell data set from the human spleen,” said Anna Wilbrey-Clark, a researcher at the Wellcome Sanger Institute. “We hope that making this unique data available before publication will encourage collaboration between scientists. Other researchers can look at the data from other angles, to mine it in different ways and use this valuable resource to test new computational methods.”