To create comprehensive reference maps of all human cells—the fundamental units of life—as a basis for both understanding human health and diagnosing, monitoring, and treating disease.
The Human Cell Atlas will impact almost every aspect of biology and medicine, ultimately leading to a richer understanding of life’s most fundamental units and principles.
Aiming to map every cell type in the human body, the Human Cell Atlas (HCA) will transform our understanding of biology and disease, and could lead to major advances in the way illnesses are diagnosed and treated.
Cells are the basic units of life, but we still do not know all the cells of the human body. Without maps of different cell types, their molecular characteristics and where they are located in the body, we cannot describe all their functions and understand the networks that direct their activities.
The Human Cell Atlas is an international collaborative consortium that charts the cell types in the healthy body, across time from development to adulthood, and eventually to old age. This enormous undertaking, larger even than the Human Genome Project, will transform our understanding of the 37.2 trillion cells in the human body. It is only possible now thanks to global collaboration, technological and computational breakthroughs, and science at great scale.
An open global initiative, the HCA was founded in 2016 and has grown to more than 2,900 HCA members, from over 1,500 institutes and 94 countries around the world. Bringing together an international community of biologists, clinicians, technologists, physicists, computational scientists, software engineers, and mathematicians, HCA membership is open to the entire scientific community worldwide – join us here. The HCA is also keen to engage with the public.
By using cutting-edge single cell and spatial genomics and computational techniques, HCA researchers are revealing which of the 20,000 genes in an individual cell are switched on, creating a unique “ID card” for each cell type. This allows scientists to discover new cell types and functions. With additional rapidly-evolving spatial analysis methods, HCA scientists map these individual cells into precise locations in organs and tissues, and understand their functions and relationships with their neighbors. There are more than 120 HCA scientific publications so far, and you can see our manifesto and White Paper for an overview of the project.
The HCA is committed to creating an open, ethical, equitable and representative atlas for humanity, which will benefit communities worldwide. HCA data is being made available at the Data Coordination Platform for researchers around the globe. By driving new technologies for disease diagnosis, and enabling development of new treatments and advances in regenerative medicine, the HCA is likely to facilitate great transformations in healthcare.
The collection of highly detailed maps will provide an unprecedented resource for studying health and disease. While our main focus is on the healthy body, the Human Cell Atlas is already providing insights into COVID-19, cancer, cystic fibrosis, heart disease, and more.