Diabetes is a worldwide problem affecting hundreds of millions of people with increasing patient numbers every year. Our goal is to assemble a spatiotemporal, multi-scale (atomic to cellular) model of a human pancreatic β-cell to gain a more holistic understanding of β-cell function in diabetes. This effort requires the convergence of structural biology, electron microscopy, X-ray tomography, -omics, live cell imaging, computational and integrative modeling, systems biology, and digital arts. To best integrate these approaches, we formed a consortium of leaders in each field to help collect the necessary data for assembling such a model. As a first step, we have characterized the cellular ultrastructure and generated a consensus of the components of a cell (proteins, nucleic acids, metabolites, lipids, etc.). Two important aspects of this project are developing new tools for data integration and improving communication between collaborators in distant fields. To achieve this goal, we are collaborating with the USC School of Cinematic Arts to generate a virtual reality experience of a β-cell that serves as a new type of tool that can toggle between experimental techniques and scales. This immersive model will allow researchers, students, and the public to explore the rich biochemical world of a β-cell. Together, these models will represent a sophisticated convergence of our understanding of cellular structure and function, revolutionize biological discovery, open new dimensions of research, and accelerate advancements in healthcare.


K.L. White: None. K. McClary: None. J. Singla: None. R.C. Stevens: None.

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