Scientists seek to map all human cells in
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[October 15, 2016]
By Kate Kelland
LONDON (Reuters) - Scientists launched a
global initiative on Friday to map out and describe every cell in the
human body in a vast atlas that could transform researchers'
understanding of human development and disease.
The atlas, which is likely to take more than a decade to complete, aims
to chart the types and properties of all human cells across all tissues
and organs and build a reference map of the healthy human body, the
Cells are fundamental to understanding the biology of all health and
disease, but scientists cannot yet say how many we have, how many
different types there are, or how they differ from one organ to another,
one project leader said.
"The human cell atlas initiative is the beginning of a new era of
cellular understanding," Sarah Teichmann, head of cellular genetics at
Britain's Sanger Institute, told reporters.
"We will discover new cell types, find how cells change across time
during development and disease and gain a better understanding of
biology," she said.
The project is currently led by a team from the Broad Institute of the
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Harvard in the United
States and the Sanger Institute and Wellcome Trust in Britain. The plan
is for research teams and funders worldwide to collaborate.
By making the atlas - essentially a vast database of cellular detail -
freely available to scientists the world over, the scientists hope to
transform research into human development and the progression of
diseases such as asthma, Alzheimer's and cancer.
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The human body is made of trillions of cells – the fundamental units
of life – which divide, grow and take on distinct functions in the
embryo, eventually leading to different cell types such as skin
cells, neurons or fat cells.
Until recently, scientific knowledge of cells has been limited to
what can be found out by looking at them under microscopes, or by
genetically analyzing clumps of hundreds or thousands of cells and
finding their average properties.
But technological advances in a field known as single-cell genomics
means researchers can now separate individual cells from different
tissues and organs, analyze their properties and measure and
describe which molecules are produced in each.
"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 Aviv Regev of Broad
Institute, who is working on the initiative.
"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 the decades to come."
(Editing by Tom Heneghan)
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