Human Cell Atlas Aims to Map Every Cell in the Human Body

A project known as the Human Cell Atlas Consortium is seeking to create an index of every unique type of cell in the body. Researchers hope that this catalog will provide new insights into how the body works and how it can ward off disease.

The global effort currently includes 500 scientists, and its projects have received $200 million in funding from the National Institutes of Health. Given the experiences with the National Human Genome Research Institute’s Human Genome Project, researchers acknowledge that cataloging every cell will be time-consuming and may not lead to immediate breakthroughs. Still, they are optimistic that the Human Cell Atlas will prove invaluable in disease research.

“We knew the lessons from the Human Genome Project were [that] rallying together the entire community would really let you get a full answer to a question,” said Aviv Regev, PhD, co-chair of the Consortium, “and that full answer will empower everyone to do better and faster and higher-resolution biology.”

The Human Cell Atlas Consortium was formed in 2016 with the goal of understanding every human cell subtype and how they interact. While hundreds of types have already been catalogued, researchers admit that they do not know how many new cells are waiting to be discovered.

“No one really knows how many there will be,” said Dr. Regev. “People guess anything from the thousands to the tens of thousands. … I would rather actually get the measurements done and have a precise answer.”

Source: NPR, August 13, 2018.