Beacon Transcript – Scientists have set out on an unprecedented mission as they seek to compile a human cell atlas.
The task has been officially announced last week, on October 14, and was launched as a collaboration between the Harvard, MIT’s Broad Institute and the United Kingdom’s Wellcome Trust Sanger.
The global initiative, which has been some scientists’ decades-old dream, will probably span over the next decade or more and has set out to compile a human cell atlas. The project will be both freely available and comprehensible and should help us better understand our bodies and organism.
The atlas maps will offer complete information about each cell’s function and anatomy as it will offer their complete descriptions and properties.
As the atlas has been a long time in the making, we now possess the technology required for such a large-scale, widespread project. The technological innovations have allowed researchers more access to the inner workings of the human body and have led to its better understanding.
Although there are still more mysteries left to uncover, the fact in itself is that medical specialists have come to possess knowledge about a healthy human body, knowledge that greatly helps in treating a sick one.
As one of the scientists involved, Aviv Regev, who was long since wished for such maps, drew out the fact that a complete description and increased knowledge of each cell of a healthy body will lead to breakthroughs and advances in almost all of the fields of medicine and biology.
The human body is made up of an as yet unknown number of cells, the approximations placing the number in the trillions tag, with each cell type having its own variety of functions and structures.
The National Institute of Health can account for almost 200 types of different cells which include the likes of neurons, fibroblasts, cardiomyocytes, and so on. Still, an agreed upon number has not yet been reached as each area of study declares at least an equal number of cells in their area alone.
The new cell atlas will contribute to the matter and possibly even offer a fixed, more precise number. The single-cell genomics area, which has registered consistent advances, will support the scientists’ quest in mapping the human body.
As cells form stable groups, the atlas will most likely feature information in regards to cell subtypes, data such as the genes they express and if or how the cells will transform as the body ages.
The project, which is still thought by most to be quite impossible, is bound to face some skepticism but for its initiators, the possible existence of a human cell atlas and the advancements it would bring are reason enough for such an ambitious project.
Image Source: Wikimedia