Human Cell Atlas


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.


In London on 13 and 14 October, 2016, a collaborative community of world-leading scientists met and discussed how to build a Human Cell Atlas—a collection of maps that will describe and define the cellular basis of health and disease.

Cells are the most fundamental unit of life, yet we know surprisingly little about them. They vary enormously within the body, and express different sets of genes. Without maps of different cell types and where they are located in the body, we cannot describe all their functions and understand the biological networks that direct their activities.

A complete Human Cell Atlas would give us a unique ID card for each cell type, a three-dimensional map of how cell types work together to form tissues, knowledge of how all body systems are connected, and insights into how changes in the map underlie health and disease. It would allow us to identify which genes associated with disease are active in our bodies and where, and analyze the regulatory mechanisms that govern the production of different cell types.

This has been a key challenge in biology for more than 150 years. New tools such as single-cell genomics have put it within reach. It is an ambitious but achievable goal, and requires an international community of biologists, clinicians, technologists, physicists, computational scientists, software engineers, and mathematicians.

A White Paper, openly available for download, provides an overview of the effort; our framework for the first draft of the atlas; descriptions of the technology and data analysis tools available to build the atlas; an introduction to the Data Coordination Platform that will host the data for researchers worldwide; a deeper look at biological systems we plan to explore and map; and details on the organization and governance of the HCA consortium and its relationships to the public (including ethical considerations regarding organ and tissue donors) and to funding support.

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Latest News

  • 10. Oct. 2018.

    HCA General Meeting, Cambridge, MA, November 1-2, 2018

    Hosted by the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard with support from The Kavli Foundation. 

    This meeting will focus on the work of the networks to build atlases of key organs including lung, gut, brain, immune, heart, vasculature, kidney and liver. We will hear updates on progress in data collection and analysis, discuss plans for organ-wide mapping, provide updates on the activities of the HCA Working Groups and hear about the Data Coordination Platform.

    While participation in person in the HCA General Meetings is by invitation, all are welcome to register here to join remotely. They will be listed as formal attendees. We will also be live streaming all plenary sessions and breakout sessions.

    Any inquiries regarding this meeting should be sent to



    Please download the agenda here.



    Live stream link here.



    The meeting will take place at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, Cambridge, MA, US [map]

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  • 9. Oct. 2018.

    Human Cell Atlas Statement on Travel Restrictions

    The Human Cell Atlas is a global, open, and collaborative scientific community committed to the principles of diversity, inclusion, and equity. To date, more than 1,000 researchers from 584 institutes in 55 countries have registered to be part of our effort. A key component of our initiative is a series of regular meetings held on a rotating basis among several countries, to maximize participation, engagement and interaction as we plan and execute the collection of the atlas.

    In this context, we are expressing our concern about travel restrictions that limit the ability of scientists around the world to fully participate in international meetings. Some such restrictions are common, including slow and overly restrictive visa procedures that severely limit the free movement of certain nationals. Of particular concern is the U.S. travel ban, which affects seven predominantly Muslim countries.

    Such bans negatively impact science in many ways that are inconsistent with the mission and values of the Human Cell Atlas initiative. They impede the free flow of information and severely restrict opportunities for talented researchers to engage in our endeavor. They eliminate key perspectives and voices that drive and enrich scientific discovery. They oppose our core principles of diversity, inclusion, and equity. And, for an effort like the Human Cell Atlas, which aims to represent and benefit all of humanity, they exclude significant segments of the human population.

    To mitigate the negative effects of such bans, we will implement several measures starting at our upcoming November meeting and at all future meetings, including:

    ● Remote registration and participation in the meeting
    ● Remote hosting of the meeting at international institutions
    ● Video conferencing to enable remote participants to contribute to breakout sessions
    ● Inviting speakers to give talks remotely if they are not permitted to attend in person
    ● Enabling remote poster presentations

    We believe that these efforts can have a positive impact beyond just the affected countries, by bringing in the many people who are not able to attend our meetings due to their limited size. We also plan to coordinate with other relevant and like-minded societies to share our experiences and gain from those of others.

    We note, however, that these actions do not substitute for collaborations and discussions that are only possible face-to-face, and thus are inherently inadequate. We therefore advocate for the removal of these travel restrictions in order to fully enable international scientific collaboration and participation.


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