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In green are motor neurons generated from embryonic stem cells. In blue are nuclei from other cell types. The superimposed graph is a topological representation of individual embryonic stem cells (blue) transitioning into motor neurons (green) (Credit: Ira Schieren/Columbia’s Zuckerman Institute).

Columbia University News

Scientists at Columbia’s Zuckerman Institute today received a grant from the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative(CZI) donor advised fund, an advised fund of the Silicon Valley Community Foundation, to construct an atlas of gene activity of all cells in the human spinal cord. Once completed, the atlas would provide a reference map for researchers investigating injuries or diseases of the spinal cord, including amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) also known Lou Gehrig’s disease. This effort, along with the wider CZI Single Cell Atlas project, could prove transformational for science and medicine, laying the groundwork for tailored therapies that target specific malfunctioning cell types, offering hope that spinal-cord disease and injury may one day be more effectively treated, or even cured.

“Despite decades of research, it’s difficult to make meaningful progress in the fight against diseases such as ALS — be it better palliative care or more ambitious strategies that reverse its course — until we identify the cellular players and their specific roles in disease progression,” said Abbas Rizvi, PhD, a postdoctoral research scientist in biochemistry & molecular biophysics at Columbia University Medical Center (CUMC).

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