The Human Cell Atlas is an international collaborative consortium that is creating a comprehensive, diverse and high-resolution molecular map of the human body, charting the cell types in the healthy body, across time from development to adulthood, and eventually to old age. This enormous undertaking, on an even larger scale than the Human Genome Project, will transform our understanding of the 37.2 trillion cells in the human body in health and disease and lead to major advances in the way illnesses are diagnosed and treated.
The HCA is a project for all humanity, worldwide. It will transform our understanding of biology and disease and is likely to revolutionise how we diagnose and treat illnesses.
We aim to create a representative atlas that encompasses diverse scientific and ancestral backgrounds and geographical perspectives, to ensure that people throughout the world can benefit from the research. With a strong commitment to equitable partnerships and to conducting research that benefits all communities, HCA’s network already spans more than 3,000 scientists from 99 countries, with regional leadership in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Middle East.
The collection of highly detailed maps will provide an unprecedented resource for studying biology and disease.
The HCA is producing a healthy reference map, like a ‘Google Maps’ for the human body, which can be compared with disease to understand illnesses, or serve as a blueprint for developing molecular and cell therapies. 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.
While our main focus is on the healthy body, the Human Cell Atlas is already providing insights into cancer, COVID-19, cystic fibrosis, bowel, heart and lung diseases and many other illnesses.
For example, HCA research is driving advances in disease modelling using mini organs (organoids), and on medical diagnostics for inflammatory bowel disease and cancer. New computational tools have highlighted potential new drug and cell targets, and understanding the developing immune system has provided critical information for engineering therapeutic T cells. HCA researchers are also tackling diseases with high unmet need in low- and middle-income settings, such as tuberculosis, and are ensuring human diversity is covered to enable progress towards equitable health care.
The HCA website is a great place to find out more about HCA. Please see the HCA Timeline on the HCA Learn More page to discover more information about the history of the HCA. For an overview of the plans of the project, please see the initial HCA manifesto and White Paper. You can find information on HCA achievements on the HCA on the HCA News and HCA in the Media webpages, and a list of all HCA papers on the HCA Publications page.
The international Human Cell Atlas Consortium was co-founded in 2016 by Dr Aviv Regev, then at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard (USA), and Dr Sarah Teichmann, then at the Wellcome Sanger Institute (UK). Together they organised a launch event in London, which brought together a collaborative community of approximately 100 world-leading scientists, to discuss how to build a Human Cell Atlas. Since then, the global initiative has grown to encompass more than 3,000 members from 99 countries around the world.
The HCA is being assembled by the 18 HCA Biological Networks which focus on specific tissues, organs or systems. Initial Lung and Brain Atlases have been assembled by HCA researchers collaborating across the globe with other consortia such as BICCN, and are available through the HCA Data Portal. More are following and these individual Atlases will collectively form the first draft Human Cell Atlas.
Once the first draft Human Cell Atlas has been created, the HCA is then aiming to create a globally representative, Comprehensive Atlas of 10 billion cells across all organs and tissues.
To be globally representative, we need representation in terms of samples as well as scientists doing the research. HCA aims to provide the foundation to utterly transform and democratise global healthcare.
The HCA is steered by the HCA Organising Committee (OC), the decision-making body of the HCA, with 35 members representing 14 countries. The OC meets regularly to determine HCA’s overall scientific direction, and provides strong leadership for the consortium.
Professional staff in the HCA Executive Office manage HCA activities including the delivery of key projects; communications; events and memberships. Non-profit organisations in the USA and the Netherlands ensure compliance with data protection regulations.
HCA operates 18 Biological Networks each focusing on a particular organ, tissue, or system. Five Working Groups, lead the direction and delivery of key aspects of HCA: ethics, equity, analysis, data ecosystem oversight and standards & technology.
Regional Networks in Asia, Latin America, Africa and the Middle East help coordinate region-specific activities such as research collaborations, scientific symposia, and training workshops.
The Human Cell Atlas initiative has the specific aim of creating a healthy reference map of cells and tissues of the body using single cell genomics and spatial methods. HCA work is supported via many different funders globally, rather than a single funding source. Thus, HCA members are typically involved in one or more regional and/or international HCA consortia, or fund their HCA work via other funders, or participate without any specific dedicated funding. This grassroots bottom-up approach is different from specific funded consortia.
In addition, HCA also has deeply complementary and collaborative relationships with regional and international consortia that focus on disease biology or use other types of technologies. These relationships leverage the recent explosion of single-cell and spatial analysis technologies and further strengthen the connections among these programs. Some key examples include:
HCA data is openly available worldwide through our Data Portal and the Human Cell Atlas is committed to creating an open, ethical, equitable and representative atlas for humanity that should represent and benefit global humanity as a whole. This goal can only be achieved if researchers from communities around the world contribute to the effort and help set our priorities, work within their local communities to explain the benefits and purpose of the HCA, and collect and study samples representing humans’ incredible diversity. To assist this, the HCA Equity Working Group partners with local scientists to design and run virtual and in-person trainings, workshops, and roadshows.
The HCA scientific community includes members from every inhabited continent – they are essential for us to reach our goal of a representative atlas, which will help advance research and healthcare worldwide. We also have regional networks in Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Middle East, initiated and led by researchers in these areas, to help coordinate efforts, articulate priorities relevant to the populations they serve, and ensure that the atlas as a whole serves all parts of the world.
HCA membership is free, and joining the HCA is a great way of connecting with researchers and receiving information about the project, meetings, and how you can contribute. HCA membership is open to anyone over 16 years old who agrees to abide by the ethical standards and principles of the HCA, described in the HCA White Paper, irrespective of career stage, area of expertise, gender, nationality, ethnicity, or any other metric or qualification. We even have older high school students who are registered members of HCA. Further details are available on the Join HCA page.
We welcome scientists across the world who are interested in taking part in the HCA, whether by contributing data, developing experimental or computational tools, helping to analyse data, or helping to shape our vision and plans.
The 18 HCA Biological Networks are creating integrated Atlases of specific organs, tissues or systems, and welcome new participants.
Please firstly join the HCA. This form will ask you to select one or more specific HCA Biological Networks that you are interested in, and you will automatically be added to those Biological Networks’ lists.
When you join HCA through the Join the HCA form, you will automatically be added to the specific HCA Biological Network(s) you choose. You do NOT have to do anything else to join a Biological Network.
The HCA Events web page has information about all HCA Meetings. In addition to the annual HCA General Meeting and the HCA Asia annual meeting, we run other Regional Network meetings and training events, and webinars featuring the Biological Networks, as well as occasional symposia. The events are free to attend online, and some funding may be available to allow people from LMIC’s to attend in person.
The HCA Resources webpage contains links to education and training materials, information on policies and guidelines, tool kits, HCA logo and style guide and other resources. The HCA also organises in person and online training and conferences.
HCA has an Ethics Working Group, that is developing an Ethics Toolkit to help members of the HCA community understand the ethical framework of the HCA. You can find useful information and tools on the Ethics Working Group page, or contact their dedicated helpdesk at email@example.com for assistance with ethical aspects of the HCA project.
The HCA is a scientific initiative organised by active research scientists who participate on a volunteer basis. The HCA does not make funding decisions or provide funding. However, many governmental and philanthropic funding agencies have committed funding for HCA-related projects and activities (see below).
The HCA is a grass-roots led, global and open scientific project that is supported by multiple funders from around the world. Such a large, global initiative needs diverse, collaborative funding, and the HCA community is grateful to all the funders for their generosity and support. Funders include, but are not limited to: The British Heart Foundation, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, DZHK, the Erling-Persson Family Foundation, the European Commission, the Helmsley Charitable Trust, INSERM, the Kavli Foundation, the Klarman Foundation, the Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation, the Medical Research Council of the UK, US National Institutes of Health, Wellcome and many others. Additional funders also support projects that will ultimately contribute to the HCA.
We welcome enquiries from other organisations who would be interested in helping to support HCA and whose mission and values align with our work.
The HCA Data Portal stores and provides single-cell data contributed by labs around the world. The cloud-based platform houses community generated, multi-omic, open and managed access data. Anyone can use the HCA Data Portal to find and access data, or access community tools and applications used to create the Atlases.The HCA Data Portal features dedicated webpages for each of the HCA Biological Networks of specific tissues and organs, and will include HCA Atlases from each Biological Network as they become available.
You can submit human (and primate and mouse) single-cell and single-nuclei transcriptomic, epigenomic and imaging data. Please contact our Data Wrangler team at firstname.lastname@example.org to submit your data to the HCA, or to ask questions about contributing data (eg about acceptable data types, formats, metadata requirements).
More information is available on the Data Portal.
HCA has a well governed, global policy around data submission and access, which is covered by legal work. Please see the Data Release Policy webpage for details.
All data contributors and data users must abide by the HCA Data Release Policy, which ensures that data is as freely and openly available as possible while protecting the rights of data generators to be the first to present or publish large-scale analyses of their results.
The HCA is a global, collaborative community with a wide array of technical expertise:
Firstly, please join the HCA. Membership is free, and will ensure you receive information about HCA meetings, activities and achievements. The best way to contact other HCA members is through the HCA Slack channel, with more than 2,600 members. Please email Slack@humancellatlas.org to be added to the HCA Slack group.
HCA is available through many channels. Here are some ways to get in touch with us and learn the latest: