A new international initiative is creating an atlas that will chart every single cell in the human body, encompassing all of the tissues within Homo sapiens, scientists announced last week at a meeting in London.
The revolutionary project, called the Human Cell Atlas, will help biologists and doctors understand, diagnose and treat diseases with the help of high-resolution images of healthy and atypical cells from every structure in the body.
The scientists said the project is expected to be as ambitious in scope as the Human Genome Project, which was the first successful undertaking to sequence the human genome – all of the 3 billion “Letters” in human DNA. There are trillions of cells within the human body, but each person came from just two cells: an egg and sperm cell.
There isn’t yet an entity that shows a magnified image of every cell and what molecules are produced in each cell, the researchers said.
“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 Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute in the United Kingdom.”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.
It will distinguish among cell states what a naive immune cell looks like before it has encountered any pathogens and how a seasoned immune cell appears after it has been activated by a bacterium, the researchers said.
This will help researchers trace the lineage of each cell, such as how a predecessor stem cell in bone marrow turns into a functional red blood cell, the researchers said.