T H E ~ C E L L ~ A T L A S
About Human Cell Atlas
In London on 13 and 14 October, 2016, a collaborative community of world-leading
scientists met and discussed how to build a Human Cell Atlas—a collection of maps
that will describe and define the cellular basis of health and disease.Labs around
the world will create the most comprehensive map of the 35 trillion cells that make
up the human body under plans put forward by researchers on Friday. The international
effort aims to decipher the types and properties of every cell a person contains,
whether healthy or diseased, in a bid to speed up discoveries in medical science.
Named the Human Cell Atlas, the project amounts to the most concerted attempt yet
to work out what we are made from and how illnesses develop when the building blocks
of the body fail.
What is the goal of the Cell Atlas?
To create comprehensive reference maps of all human
cells—the fundamental units of life—as a basis for both understanding
human health and diagnosing, monitoring, and treating disease.
More about cells and what the Human Cell Atlas would do
Cells are the most fundamental unit of life, yet we know surprisingly little about them.
They vary enormously within the body, and express different sets of genes. Without maps
of different cell types and where they are located in the body, we cannot describe all
their functions and understand the biological networks that direct their activities. A
complete Human Cell Atlas would give us a unique ID card for each cell type, a three-dimensional
map of how cell types work together to form tissues, knowledge of how all body systems
are connected, and insights into how changes in the map underlie health and disease.
It would allow us to identify which genes associated with disease are active in our bodies and
where, and analyze the regulatory mechanisms that govern the production of different cell types.
This has been a key challenge in biology for more than 150 years. New tools such as single-cell
genomics have put it within reach. It is an ambitious but achievable goal, and requires an
international community of biologists, clinicians, technologists, physicists, computational
scientists, software engineers, and mathematicians.