A new project aims to map all the cells of the human body

A new project aims to map all the cells of the human body: a bit like creating a real map of the world, at the human cellular level.

The human body is complex: composed of tens of billions of cells working in unison to keep us alive every day ... Now there is a project for the least ambitious, set up by the National Institutes of Health ( NIH), which aims to help map each cell of the human body and determine how they cooperate to ensure the continued functioning of the body.

Indeed, for the human body to function properly, cell activity must be tightly coordinated. Right now, we already know a lot about how our main organs work to keep us alive, yet there is still a lot to discover and understand about how cells work together.

Already in 2016, 90 scientists from around the world have developed the Human Cell Atlas ( HCA ). As part of this project, a group of researchers compiles an atlas of individual cells that make up the human body. The United States has decided to contribute to this project through the Human BioMolecular Atlas Program.

Now, a new study highlights how, by combining imaging techniques, distributed and involved research teams are mapping each part of the body to contribute to the atlas.

This map of a developing liver shows individual cells in dot form, color-coded by cell type. Credits: Newcastle University

At the moment, the first maps of the HCA project are already being completed, including a result of a research that was published this month that has mapped some 140,000 cells. hepatic of the human body, as and when they develop.

This study was led by Muzlifah Haniffa of Newcastle University and revealed that, as humans develop from fetuses, their ability to produce blood and white blood cells changes between ages. from 7 to 17 weeks.

At present, the data is being added to the HCA database and may be useful for the study of blood and immune disorders in children.

In another study, a team led by Prakash Ramachandran, of the University of Edinburgh, mapped the cells involved in the formation of scar tissue in the liver: researchers here discovered that most scars were composed of three types cells, the white blood cells (macrophages), the endothelial cells (which line the blood vessels) and the scar cells (myofibroblast). The team says that a better understanding of these cells could lead to new preventive treatments for scars.

As for the team behind the Human BioMolecular Atlas program, the most interesting part will be to compile all the data gathered around the world to assemble and create this real 3D cellular map of the human body: " The biggest challenge will be to gather all the information at the beginning, "said Richard Conroy, NIH. But he expects the process to become easier as more and more data is brought to the researchers.


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