From Harvard Medical School: “Toward Better Science”

Harvard University


From Harvard Medical School

News & Research

November 2, 2020

15 HMS researchers awarded grants to support more representative research for the Human Cell Atlas.

Credit: enjoynz/DigitalVision Vectors/Getty Images.

Researchers worldwide are working together to create a common reference map of all human cells that will allow us to better understand and treat disease: the Human Cell Atlas (HCA). The HCA is already making an impact. For example, researchers used initial cell atlas data from the nose and airway to identify cells that may be entry points for SARS-CoV-2. Scientists have also used reference data from many organ systems to begin to clarify the complex pathology associated with COVID-19.

Yet to be truly useful as a reference atlas for the human body, the HCA must be broadly representative of determinants of health, including race, ethnicity and ancestry. A disease like COVID-19 highlights that many understudied communities and populations are heavily affected, and due to a myriad of factors, are more likely to contract the disease and experience more severe symptoms and outcomes.

The field of genomics overall has fallen short of generating and sharing data that is representative of the global population, leading scientists all over the world to call for more genetic diversity in studies and research.

Fifteen HMS researchers are co-principal investigators on 10 teams to receive supplemental grants from the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative (CZI) to expand the Human Cell Atlas, a global effort to map every cell in the human body.

CZI supports 38 collaborative teams, involving more than 200 research labs, to generate data and tools and develop methods to advance the HCA through the Seed Networks for the Human Cell Atlas. These groups bring together scientists, computational biologists, software engineers and physicians to help accelerate progress toward a first version.

One of the Seed Networks’ goals is to help ensure that the first draft of the HCA is representative of the global population to increase its impact and utility for the global scientific community. True representation of human genetic ancestral diversity results in a broader application of the HCA to diseases that impact everyone, ultimately helping to build a more equitable and inclusive future for the field of single-cell biology and beyond.

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