Frequently Asked Questions

About the HCA

What is the HCA?

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.

Who benefits from the HCA?

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.

What impact will the HCA have?

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.

Where can I find information on HCA history, plans and achievements?

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.

Videos of HCA Conference presentations are posted on the HCA YouTube and HCA Bilibili (for audiences in China) channels.

When was the HCA Launched?

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.

How is the Human Cell Atlas being assembled?

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.

When will the project end / When will the atlas be ready?

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.

Who runs the HCA?

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.

How does HCA differ from other large-scale initiatives such as LifeTime, HuBMAP, etc.?

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:

  • The Human BioMolecular Atlas program (HuBMAP) and individual organ atlases, supported and managed by the US National Institutes of Health (NIH). For more on HuBMAP and its relationship to HCA, please see Mapping the Human Body at Cellular Resolution – The NIH Common Fund Human BioMolecular Atlas Program.
  • LifeTime, a pan-European multidisciplinary initiative that aims at understanding disease at the cellular level to develop means of intercepting and treating disease. It builds on collaborations with the HCA, which is focused on establishing a healthy reference atlas.
  • NIH’s BRAIN Initiative Cell Atlas Network (BICAN). The integrated Brain Atlas produced by BICAN will form the foundation of the HCA Nervous System Atlas, which will eventually expand to include the Peripheral Nervous System.
  • The Human Tumor Atlas Network, which is focused on cancer, in contrast to the HCA that focuses on healthy individuals.
  • The Human Protein Atlas, an effort to map proteins in all human cells, tissues, and organs.

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HCA and Global Diversity

How does HCA include human diversity? Why is a global effort required?

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.

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Get Involved / Contribute to HCA

Who can join HCA? How much does it cost?

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.

How can I get involved and contribute to the HCA?

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.

  • Firstly, please join the HCA. Membership is free, and will ensure you receive information about HCA meetings, activities and achievements. By registering, you agree to abide by our principles of equity and inclusion.
    When you register, you will be asked what research you are interested in. These include building a tissue map of a tissue, system, or cell population of interest, new experimental or computational methods for mapping cells and tissues at single cell resolution, computational analysis, data coordination, equity and ethics.
    The Join the HCA registration form will also ask you to select one or more specific HCA Biological Networks that you are interested in, and you will then automatically be added to those Biological Networks’ lists.
  • Work with one or more of the 18 Biological Networks, producing integrated Atlases of specific tissues, organs or systems. Everyone in a Biological Network can contribute to the Atlas integration: You can help select datasets for integration; help implement specific BioNetwork roadmaps; participate in cell-type Annotation Jamborees; and join Bionetwork meetings to collaborate with researchers in your field.
  • Submit each of your papers for inclusion within the Human Cell Atlas publications. HCA publications are posted on this website, HCA bioRxiv and social media channels, which can help your paper gain more visibility. Further details here.
  • Share your science! Collaborate, coordinate and communicate. Collect and analyse data on the healthy human body, in your own lab and in collaboration with other HCA members.
  • Add your experimental protocol (focused on human tissue) to our HCA protocols website.
  • Contribute an analysis method or experimental technology useful for building a human cell atlas by publishing a paper about it in bioRxiv and an open-access journal.
  • Tell others about HCA and encourage them to participate.
  • Participate in meetings with existing Working Groups and Biological Networks.
  • Join our Slack Channel by emailing and participate in discussions.

How do I join the HCA Biological Networks? Can I join more than one HCA Biological Network?

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.

If you have filled in the Join the HCA form before and are already a member of HCA, please email to join one or more particular Biological Networks.

If I join HCA, do I still need to join the Biological Networks?

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.

How can I attend a meeting?

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.

What resources does HCA offer?

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 for assistance with ethical aspects of the HCA project.

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How can I fund my HCA-related activities? Can HCA fund my work?

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).

Who funds HCA?

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.

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HCA Data

Where do I find or access data?

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.

The HCA Data Portal includes an updated Data Explorer interface where people can find and explore all HCA datasets. To access the Data Portal, please visit

How do I contribute data?

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 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.

What are the regulations around submitting data and data access?

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.

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Scientific Community

I want to ask a technical question and get help from the community. How do I tap into that resource?

The HCA is a global, collaborative community with a wide array of technical expertise:

I want to find collaborators who work in my field. How do I contact them?

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 to be added to the HCA Slack group.

Whom can I contact if I have another question?

HCA is available through many channels. Here are some ways to get in touch with us and learn the latest: