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Scientists Will Create An Atlas For All The Cells In The Human Body

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The human body is getting its very own atlas, in which every single cell will be mapped out, scientists announced.

An international initiative is set to create the Human Cell Atlas, a revolutionary project that is expected to help doctors, biologists and scientists understand and treat diseases better through the use of high-resolution images of healthy and abnormal cells from every part of the body, Live Science reports.

Sten Linnarsson, a professor of molecular systems biology at the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden and a member of the initiative, says,

In sickness and in health, cells are the fundamental units of life, and only by knowing our cells will we be able to fully comprehend the mechanisms of human disease.

The project was announced at an international meeting, where researchers discussed what would be included in the undertaking’s initial phase. The Human Cell Atlas is predicted to be similar in scope as the Human Genome Project – the first venture to have successfully sequenced the human genome, all 3 billion “letters” contained in the human DNA.

There are trillions of cells within the human body, but there is currently a limited volume of information on them. There have been studies that described how cells look like under a microscope, and modern research has looked into the average properties of cells. But there is no singular entity that shows cells in magnified detail and identifies which molecules are produced in each cell, the scientists behind the project say.

The atlas will contain messenger RNA that gives every cell its identity, for example. Advances in single-cell genomics have made this possible, along with other processes needed to analyze cells closely.

Sarah Teichmann, head of cellular genetics at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute in the UK, says, “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.”

The Human Cell Atlas will identify the different types of cells, show where these are located within tissues, and differentiate among cell states – like before and after a bacteria attack. The atlas will also capture important features of cells as they change, which will enable researchers to trace where each cell has come from. This in turn could lead to valuable discoveries in medical research, particularly for difficult diseases such as in Alzheimer’s.

Once completed, the atlas will be available worldwide, the researchers say. Cori Bargmann, incoming president of science at the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, says, “This is exactly the kind of transformative technology that will advance the mission of curing, preventing or managing all diseases by the end of the century.”


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