Contribution of iReceptor Plus to COVID-19 research highlighted at Human Vaccine Project meeting


By Judy Siegel-Itzkovich

An hour-long, online discussion by prominent researchers involved in the iReceptor Plus project was observed and heard by researchers around the world on February 10, 2022.

Organized by the Human Vaccines Project, the Global COVID Lab Meeting focused on how iReceptor Plus contributes to COVID-19 research at hundreds of labs around the globe.

Prof. Emeritus Felix Breden of Simon Fraser University launched the discussion. Prof. Breden is the founding chair of the Adaptive Immune Receptor Repertoire (AIRR) Community, a grassroots community of immunologists and bioinformaticians organized in 2014 to develop protocols and standards for sharing and comparing antibody/B-cell and T-cell receptor sequences, and scientific manager of iReceptor Plus. He was followed by Dr. Brian Corrie, iReceptor Plus technical manager, and Dr. Kira Neller, the data curator and bioinformatician with the iReceptor team.

After over five million recorded deaths from COVID-19 over the last two years, Prof. Breden explained that the data amassed in the repositories were critical to many diseases – from cancer to viral infections like the current, tragic pandemic. 

“The immune system has to be very diverse to recognize old pathogens and new ones. It’s very difficult to share and compare data. Many of T and B cells are unique in whole human population – and it is important to be able to compare these before and after vaccination, or within a tumor and outside that tumor in cancer research.”

Prof. Breden described the huge data sets. Just one paper on a type of lymphoma, for example, involved 1.2 billion cell receptor sequences. “New databases are needed to store germline and expressed gene data that are used by researchers, each of whom uses different approaches. Thanks to standards developed by the AIRR Community for AIRR-seq data, the users are increasingly free from having to recode the data every time want to do an analysis.”

Researchers have collected large data sets of T and B cell diversity of immune responses that could help design vaccines and therapeutics for COVID-19 and other infections in the future. 

Corrie revealed that the repositories in the AIRR Data Commons house 68 studies and five billion annotated sequences, all very valuable data. There are currently five international repositories in the AIRR Data Commons in the US, Canada, Germany, South Africa and Israel, with more repositories expected soon. “You can search study metadata for key words or subjects with a specific disease diagnosis (e.g., COVID-19). Using these filtered results you can get gene level statistics for a specific repertoire, drilling down to allele level data.”

Researchers can curate their own data and share them easily in the AIRR Data Commons, concluded Corrie. “The iReceptor Turnkey is a platform researchers can use to curate their own data in a local repository.”