‘Human Cell Atlas’ Initiative Announced: Single-Cell Sequencing To Map 35 Trillion Cells In The Human Body

19 October 2016, 8:51 am EDT By Livia Rusu Tech Times
The Human Cell Atlas is an initiative to characterize and chart every cell in the human body, and it will be globally available for references. The approach could lead to better understanding of the anatomy of diseases and better treatments.  ( Sandy Huffaker | Getty Images )

London hosted a scientific meeting on Oct. 13 and 14 to create a Human Cell Atlas, a description of all the cells in the human body. The ambitious project wishes to create a global reference map that would contribute to the way patients are diagnosed and treated.

The meeting was the first on the series, and its purpose is to chart all the types and properties of human cells across all the tissue and organs, contributing significantly to the standardization of medical approaches worldwide.

The event was convened by Wellcome Trust, Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, and the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard under for purpose of establishing the first elements of the initiative to map the cells of a healthy human body. The atlas will be made available to scientists worldwide, with the sole goal to improve medical research and progress. The project is no less spectacular than the Human Genome Project, where the first full human DNA sequence was charted.

Trillions of cells compose a human body, and their evolution through division, growth and separate functions contributes to the variety of tissues. However, the project wishes to separately analyze the cells in order to get insight into the molecules that compose them, instead of just gathering generic information on their purpose and behavior, as previous approaches holistically did. Aside from establishing a better and more specific identity for each of the cells, the project will also contribute to a better understanding of their purposes and mechanical uses inside the human body.

"The cell is the key to understanding the biology of health and disease, but we are currently limited in our understanding of how cells differ across each organ, or even how many cell types there are in the body," noted Dr. Sarah Teichmann, FMedSci, head of cellular genetics at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute.

This transformative and unprecedented technological approach will democratize the resources for biomedical uses inside the community, worldwide. Accessing the same resources and operating with the same core concepts and understandings could have a tremendous contribution to the development of different cures for diseases that we're currently struggling with.

"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," says the main objective of the project, as stated on the official website of the Human Cell Atlas.

The premise of this project is that the core units of the human bodies are cells, and the exhaustive comprehension of their biology, as well as their molecular dysfunctions, could lead to a better understanding of the anatomy of diseases.

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