O’Donnell Brain Institute joins global effort to map human cells

Exploring the Mind


DALLAS – Nov. 13, 2017 – UT Southwestern’s O’Donnell Brain Institute will help in an international effort to map and characterize all the cells in the human body, an ambitious project aimed at gaining insight into how cellular changes can cause disease.

 Dr. Genevieve Konopka, a neuroscientist with the Peter O’Donnell Jr. Brain Institute, will lead a team that will evaluate which technologies are best for determining how genes are expressed in the brain. The team will also compare different brain-tissue conditions to determine the optimal method for collecting data on gene expression.

The project is part of the Human Cell Atlas, an effort involving select scientists across the globe to create comprehensive maps of all human cells to understand how healthy cells work and what malfunctions when people become sick.

Dr. Konopka is among seven scientists tasked with researching the brain through funds awarded by the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative.

 “Our project could have a major impact on how we understand and ultimately treat brain disorders with complex genomic underpinnings such as autism and schizophrenia,” said Dr. Konopka, Associate Professor of Neuroscience and the Jon Heighten Scholar in Autism Research at UT Southwestern Medical Center.

Dr. Genevieve Konopka, Associate Professor of Neuroscience and the Jon Heighten Scholar in Autism Research

Dr. Konopka has researched various aspects of the brain through the years, including genetic pathways involved in language development that are vulnerable in autism. Earlier this year she published a study identifying more than 100 genes linked to memory, opening new avenues of research to better understand memory processing in the human brain.

“Dr. Konopka is a rising star in the field of human gene expression in the brain. This award from the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative is the first for UT Southwestern and will enable her to contribute significantly to the Human Cell Atlas and to interact with other outstanding members of this consortium,” said Dr. Joseph Takahashi, Chairman of Neuroscience at UT Southwestern, Investigator for the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, and holder of the Loyd B. Sands Distinguished Chair in Neuroscience.

The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, founded by Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg and wife Priscilla Chan in 2015, is supporting various initiatives in scientific research and other areas. Besides the Human Cell Atlas project, the group is funding a separate nonprofit center for biomedical research and has created a science advisory board to guide its strategies. 

About UT Southwestern Medical Center

UT Southwestern, one of the premier academic medical centers in the nation, integrates pioneering biomedical research with exceptional clinical care and education. The institution’s faculty has received six Nobel Prizes, and includes 22 members of the National Academy of Sciences, 18 members of the National Academy of Medicine, and 14 Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigators. The faculty of more than 2,700 is responsible for groundbreaking medical advances and is committed to translating science-driven research quickly to new clinical treatments. UT Southwestern physicians provide care in about 80 specialties to more than 100,000 hospitalized patients, 600,000 emergency room cases, and oversee approximately 2.2 million outpatient visits a year.