Mar 2, 2023 · 8 min read

New Chan Zuckerberg Biohub Chicago Will Engineer Technologies To Measure Human Biology

Research Hub Brings Together Leading Institutions to Build Sensors to Study Inflammation, a Major Driver of Disease

A scientist in a lab wearing clear safety glasses uses both hands to work on a circuit board.
Dec. 5, 2022 | R&D Engineer Emily Huynh of CZ Biohub San Francisco’s Bioengineering team works on circuits in the lab. | Photograph by Barbara Ries
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Today, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative (CZI) announced the launch of a new biomedical research hub in Chicago, Illinois that will bring together leading scientific and technology institutions with the goal of solving grand scientific challenges on a 10- to 15-year time horizon. The Chan Zuckerberg Biohub Chicago will catalyze collaboration between the University of Chicago, Northwestern University, and the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign to develop new technologies for studying and measuring human biology that will use embedded sensors and probes to collect biological signals from human tissues with unprecedented resolution.

Building on the successes of the first Chan Zuckerberg Biohub in San Francisco (CZ Biohub San Francisco), this new location is the first to expand the CZ Biohub Network, a groundbreaking collaborative model for scientific research that brings together leading research institutions in different regions. Together, members of the CZ Biohub Network will partner to develop science and technologies that help understand how cells and tissues function and increase our understanding of human health and disease.

“We are excited to scale this successful model of collaborative science into a larger network by welcoming the new Biohub in Chicago,” said CZI Co-Founder and Co-CEO Priscilla Chan. “This institute will embark on science to embed miniaturized sensors into tissues that will allow us to understand how healthy and diseased tissues function in unprecedented detail. This might feel like science fiction today, but we think it’s realistic to achieve huge progress in the next 10 years. I look forward to the advances in science and technology that this new Biohub will spur in studying how tissues function to understand what goes wrong in disease and how to fix it.”

CZ Biohub Chicago will focus on engineering technologies to make precise, molecular-level measurements of biological processes within human tissues, with an ultimate goal of understanding and treating the inflammatory states that underlie many diseases. The Biohub will use this new measurement platform to learn how immune cells can malfunction and cause disease.

“The Chicago Biohub will create technologies that will transform our understanding of tissue-scale biology, revealing important information about the processes that take place in living tissues that could lead to new therapies,” said CZI Co-Founder and Co-CEO Mark Zuckerberg. “This immense scientific challenge requires bringing together researchers and technologists in new ways to accomplish great science that isn’t done in conventional environments. The powerful collaborative model of the San Francisco Biohub has shown us that cross-disciplinary science leads to breakthroughs, and this integrated research model is a key part of how we’ll move towards curing, preventing, or managing all disease by the end of the century.”

CZ Biohub Chicago will be led by Professor Shana O. Kelley of Northwestern University and will initially focus on using a unique, engineering-driven approach to study human biology. By embedding thousands of sensors and sampling probes in tissues, scientists will be able to monitor molecular and cellular signals with unprecedented resolution, and reveal how disruptions in these processes lead to inflammation and disease.

Inflammation and overactive immune cells play a key role in many diseases, including cancer, heart disease, and Alzheimer’s disease, and are also implicated in organ failure, and severe infectious diseases like COVID-19. But inducing inflammation in a controlled way can also be used to combat disease: in cancer immunotherapy, the immune system is unleashed and directed toward tumors. The CZ Biohub Chicago’s first explorations of inflammatory processes will involve human skin tissue, as many skin diseases are driven by inflammation.

“We’re thrilled to be part of the Chan Zuckerberg Biohub Network, which will galvanize multidisciplinary research and drive more progress than any one of these institutions could have achieved on its own,” said CZ Biohub Chicago President Shana O. Kelley. “The scientific challenge we’re exploring — to develop new tools to better measure tissues and gain insights into inflammation — can only be solved by interdisciplinary collaboration, has large engineering challenges to surmount, and is wildly, but not impossibly, ambitious.”

Through advances in genomics, molecular biology, and most recently, single-cell biology, scientists have made great strides in understanding the structure and function of individual cells. But our organs are made up of specialized tissues that contain billions of cells — our heart muscle alone is estimated to comprise more than two billion cells — so gaining insights about how tissues work as a whole, in both health and disease, is an enormous challenge.

To begin to crack this problem, the engineered platforms that will be developed at the CZ Biohub Chicago will combine several state-of-the-art technologies to make the first holistic and direct measurements of inflammation in human tissue. These tools will allow researchers to monitor the activity of immune cells within tissues in real time, with the goal of finding ways to steer the immune system away from the “tipping points” that lead to inflammatory disorders. With a more comprehensive understanding of this biology, new approaches to treating a range of diseases will be made possible, with the ultimate aim of making inflammation-driven diseases more treatable and preventable.

The CZ Biohub Chicago will work with CZI teams, including the science technology team, which aspires to advance biomedical research and develop technologies to understand, observe, measure, and analyze any biological process within the human body — across spatial scales and in real time.

Over the next decade, CZ Science is focused on understanding the mysteries of the cell and how cells interact within systems, which could lead to groundbreaking discoveries that will help cure, prevent or manage all disease by the end of this century. To achieve this mission, CZI builds open source software tools to accelerate science and generate more accurate and biologically important sources of data, funds scientific research worldwide to advance the frontiers of knowledge, and supports research that can’t be done in conventional environments.

“The CZ Biohub Chicago has ambitious plans to develop technologies to instrument human tissues, thus enabling scientists to understand interactions between cells and to discover the design rules of how tissues develop and are maintained,” said CZI Head of Science Steve Quake. “This is a deeply inspiring goal that will involve a decade-long pursuit of new knowledge, and requires discovery and technological development along the way. We’re confident this new research hub will accomplish its scientific aims, and help translate basic science into groundbreaking treatments and therapies.”

The inaugural Chan Zuckerberg Biohub in San Francisco was founded in 2016 in partnership with Stanford University; University of California, Berkeley; and University of California, San Francisco. Its cell atlas project led the development of the first whole organism cell atlases in humans, mice, flies and lemurs, and also led to creation of maps of the internal cell architecture of cells. Its infectious disease project helped accelerate California’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic in the Bay Area and statewide, and develops technologies to identify emerging disease outbreaks around the world.

“The growing Chan Zuckerberg Biohub Network speaks to the success of the CZ Biohub San Francisco, where leading academic institutions in the Bay Area pursue the toughest, riskiest scientific challenges in cell biology and infectious disease, and build technology to advance these areas,” said CZ Biohub San Francisco President Joe DeRisi. “More Biohubs in the Network mean more opportunities for collaboration, and we’re excited to share what we’ve learned to set this new Biohub up for success. The Chicago Biohub will focus on developing technologies to measure proteins and metabolites in tissues, which complements the San Francisco Biohub’s expertise in measuring DNA and RNA in cells.”

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About the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative
The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative was founded in 2015 to help solve some of society’s toughest challenges — from eradicating disease and improving education, to addressing the needs of our local communities. Our mission is to build a more inclusive, just, and healthy future for everyone. For more information, please visit chanzuckerberg.com.

About the Chan Zuckerberg Biohub Network
The Chan Zuckerberg Biohub Network is a group of nonprofit research institutes that bring together physicians, scientists, and engineers with the goal of pursuing grand scientific challenges on a 10- to 15-year time horizon. These institutes partner with Chan Zuckerberg Science in its goal to understand the mysteries of the cell and how cells interact within systems. This collaboration will bring us closer to our mission to cure, prevent, or manage all disease by the end of the century. To learn more, visit www.czbiohub.org.

Press Contact

Chan Zuckerberg Initiative
Leah Duran, 650-213-6170
lduran@chanzuckerberg.com

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