Scientists Launch Global Effort to Find the Next Diabetes Drug

The cell as a city 

The challenge of understanding the pancreatic beta cell could be compared to getting to know an unfamiliar city. In a collaboration with the World Building Media lab at the USC School of Cinematic Arts and working with professors Alex McDowell and Todd Richmond, the consortium is trying to use world-building tools, similar to what was used to craft the film “Minority Report,” and portray the cell as a world.

“We are starting to understand who the citizens are, what the infrastructure looks like and how the governing hierarchy operates,” said co-author Kyle McClary, a USC chemistry PhD candidate. “We are trying to distill the cell’s fundamental properties into abstract representations that are more approachable.”

Co-author Jitin Singla, a PhD candidate in computational biology and bioinformatics at the Dornsife College, believes that the project will shed new light on understanding life itself.

“Efforts to understand the cell in its entirety are important for me to understand how we perceive life at its microscopic scale,” Singla said. “The further we move forward in this project, the more it excites me as it unfolds new dimensions, knowledge and intricacies of [the] cell and how all of this comes together to make one ‘living’ cell.”

Stevens said a comprehensive model of the beta cell would have implications far beyond the pancreatic beta cell.

“We hope our project lays the foundation for people to be able to model neurons, stem cells and other types of cells,” he said.