Human Cell Atlas: Reading biology

An ambitious global initiative to create a Human Cell Atlas - a description of every cell in the human body as a reference map to accelerate progress in biomedical science - is being discussed at an International meeting in London this week. Ultimately, the Human Cell Atlas would revolutionise how doctors and researchers understand, diagnose and treat disease.

A comprehensive cell atlas would make it possible to catalog all types and even subtypes of cells in the body, identify where in the body they reside, and even distinguish different stages of differentiation and cell states, such as immune cell activation. An atlas would also allow researchers to map cell lineages, such as tracing a red blood cell all the way back to its stem cell origins in the bone marrow.