In case you have a cut or a wound, neutrophils (a type of white blood cells) migrate to the wound to protect the body against the invading bacteria by engulfing them. Neutrophils not only protect against bacterial infection but also against fungal or viral infections. In case neutrophil migration is impaired, it is likely that the infection cannot be resolved in time. This could eventually lead to sepsis, a global inflammation caused by the infection. Sepsis can be fatal if not treated in time. The worldwide incidence of sepsis and septic shock (very severe sepsis) is estimated to be 18 million cases per year, of which more than 25% of the cases result in fatality , . One way to diagnose sepsis is to perform a neutrophil count and investigate the migration speed and efficiency of the neutrophils.
Since neutrophils are one of the key players in sepsis, gaining insight into the mechanisms that affect neutrophil motility is crucial in understanding and, eventually, treating sepsis. To investigate motility, the Dictyostelium cell (also known as Dicty cell) is commonly used as a model cell. To rapidly increase the amount of data obtained with this model cell, Dr. Daniel Irimia from the Massachusetts General Hospital organized the first Dicty World Race in 2014, a global competition between neutrophil research groups. The teams that participate in the Dicty World Race are encouraged to genetically modify the Dicty cells to obtain the fastest and most efficiently migrating cells. In this way, a large database of genes and mutations that affect migration can be built. To test the speed and efficiency of the Dicty cells, all teams are provided with a microscopic size maze. The cells are inserted at one side of the maze and need to migrate to the finish on the other side of the maze, which is a reservoir of chemoattractant (chemical compound which attracts cells). The maze is positioned on a modified version of the CytoSMARTTM Lux2, specially designed for the Dicty Race to capture images of the migrating Dicty cells every 10 seconds. In this way, the migration speed and efficiency (migration towards or away from the chemoattractant) of each cell can be monitored.
This year, more than 15 teams from around the world are participating in the third Dicty World Race. Amongst the participants are eight teams from the United States from renowned universities, such as Johns Hopkins University, University of Pennsylvania, and the University of California in San Francisco. The teams from Europe are located in the United Kingdom (e.g. Kings College), France, Spain, and Austria. This year, teams from India and Australia are also joining the race. At the moment, the teams receive the microscopic mazes and a modified version of the CytoSMARTTM Lux2 for one week to make time-lapse movies of their engineered cells using a standardized protocol developed by the Dicty World Race organization. The team that engineers the fastest and, more importantly, the most efficient cells will win the race. More information about the Dicty World Race can be found on www.dictyworldrace.com and https://experiment.com/u/WgBAxA.