NYUAD Professor Awarded Grant by the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative to Build a Globally Inclusive Immune Cell Atlas

Press Release

NYU Abu Dhabi Assistant Professor of Biology Youssef Idaghdour is among the international researchers and collaborators to be awarded funding from the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative (CZI) to deliver a globally inclusive immune cell atlas in rural and urban populations of African ancestry.

This project, titled African Ancestry Immune Cell Atlas, awarded approximately USD 2.7 million, focuses on studying immune cell variation on a population scale, to power association studies between environmental, genetic, and immunological variables.


“In order to develop effective treatments and cures for all people, it is essential that the biomedical community embraces diversity and orchestrates its efforts to increase representation in scientific research. To this end, the CZI grant will be extremely helpful in supporting our work on gene-environmental interactions in the immune system for the coming years, as we focus on African populations starting with rural and urban populations in Morocco. Our plan is to expand the research to the UAE population, as well as other African and Asian populations under-represented in genetic studies.”

Assistant Professor of Biology Youssef Idaghdour

The human immune system is composed of multiple interrelated and complementary sub-systems of defense that protect against pathogens and tumor cells. Immune cells are ideal as a model to study interactions given the responsiveness of its components to a range of external factors including pathogens, stress, nutritional, social, and other environmental factors. A cellular ‘road-map’ of ancestrally inclusive immune cell samples will provide fundamental metrics to define the diverse cells of the immune system. 

This project is part of a larger plan that was announced by the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, highlighting that USD 28 million in grants will be made available to support the inclusion of data from tissue samples from ancestrally diverse donors in the Human Cell Atlas (HCA). The program consists of 16 teams of researchers – including single-cell biologists, tissue experts, computational biologists, and community-engaged researchers – representing 31 different countries, who are working on various tissues and biological systems. These new projects will provide insights into how genetic ancestry influences health and disease at the level of our cells, resulting in a scientific resource that will be more representative of the diversity found in the global human population. 

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 local communities. Its mission is to build a more inclusive, just, and healthy future for everyone. 

About NYU Abu Dhabi

NYU Abu Dhabi is the first comprehensive liberal arts and research campus in the Middle East to be operated abroad by a major American research university. NYU Abu Dhabi has integrated a highly selective undergraduate curriculum across the disciplines with a world center for advanced research and scholarship. The university enables its students in the sciences, engineering, social sciences, humanities, and arts to succeed in an increasingly interdependent world and advance cooperation and progress on humanity’s shared challenges. NYU Abu Dhabi’s high-achieving students have come from over 115 countries and speak over 115 languages. Together, NYU's campuses in New York, Abu Dhabi, and Shanghai form the backbone of a unique global university, giving faculty and students opportunities to experience varied learning environments and immersion in other cultures at one or more of the numerous study-abroad sites NYU maintains on six continents.