Mapping the way to understanding Human Health

17 October 2016

An ambitious global initiative to build an ‘atlas’ of all the cells in the human body was announced on Friday, its aim – to “describe and define the cellular basis of health and disease”.

At an international meeting, experts from around the world proposed a plan for research centres around the world to work together on building a map of every cell in the human body. Once complete the atlas will be freely available, which the group hopes will transform health research and our understanding of the progression of disease within the human body.

Building the atlas will be a herculean task, necessitating the analysis of the many hundreds of unique cells that comprise the human body – a task in which the new field of single cell ‘omics will play a pivotal role. Coordinating research across numerous fields all over the globe will also be a challenge, and the international effort will require a standardised method and strategy for the study of cells across diverse populations around the world.

If the atlas project is successful, the group behind it believe its potential benefit will be immediate and tangible: better detecting therapeutic targets, improving identification of diseased cells, and driving technological development.

In the press release, Sten Linnarsson, Professor of Molecular Systems biology at the Karolinska Institute Sweden described the cell atlas as “the most exciting initiative to come out of the life science community in a long time”.