The global initiative will help understand how cells differ across each organ and how many cell types there are in the body
A combined team of researchers from MIT, Harvard and the Sanger Institute has launched a global initiative to catalogue each and every cell found in human body, with the aim of providing immaculate knowledge about all types and properties of human cells across all tissues and organs. Once completed, the “Human Cell Atlas” will revolutionize the way doctors and researchers understand, diagnose or treat a disease. This initiative will work as a reference map of human body and will accelerate the process of finding future cures.
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Cells are called the basic building blocks of life, which can grow in different densities and sizes to form various tissues of the human body, ending up creating organs like lungs, liver and brain.
Human body is estimated to have over 35 trillion cells. This is the estimation made by the previous studies where researchers had scoured the scientific journals for details on the cells in body. A few years ago, measuring this complex and extensive information would have been impossible, but recent technology is sophisticated enough to physically separate individual cells from different tissues and organs and to map the full human DNA sequence.
“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,” said Sarah Teichmann, head of cellular genetics at the Sanger Institute.
“The Human Cell Atlas initiative is the beginning of a new era of cellular understanding as we will discover new cell types, find how cells change across time, during development and disease, and gain a better understanding of biology.”
Scientists have sequenced the genomes of a variety of organisms like animals, plants bacterium and funguses as well as humans. But surprisingly we still know very little about our individual cells and how they vary from each other. Human Cell Atlas promises to bring a chart of all types of human cells within our reach. It will also help researchers across the world to look at mutations in cells in a matter of hours or days and understand the progression of diseases like asthma, Alzheimer’s and cancer. This will ultimately speed the search for new treatments, which otherwise require several years to reach a conclusion.
“We believe that a successful description of all the cells in the healthy human body will impact almost every aspect of biology and medicine in decades to come. We now have the tools to understand what we are composed of, which allows us to learn how our bodies work and uncover how all these elements malfunction in disease,” said Dr. Aviv Regev from Board Institute.
“By creating this atlas through an open, international effort, we are building a new research tool for the whole community.”