A recent project from the National Institute of Health aims to build a 3D map of human tissues on a cellular level. Known as HuBMAP (Human BioMolecular Atlas Program), the project is largely seen as a successor to the Human Genome Project and will likely yield similarly incredible results.
With the goal of better understanding how cells organize and cooperate in tissues, the researchers involved in the project hope to be able to view the body with molecular level precision, understanding which “genes and proteins are activated in each part of the body” and the effects that has. Although it won’t map the entire body, the project will nevertheless present many challenges in dealing with big data, a very current issue in science research, as the researchers seek to map trillions of cells, compose high-resolution maps of them, and categorize those maps.
Caltech, one of the few institutions chosen for the program, is working on mapping the circulatory system, analyzing differences in the tissues of arteries, veins, and other components on a microscopic scale. Using a new imaging technique known as seqFISH, researchers at CalTech aim to analyze mRNA and in doing so pinpoint thousands of biomarkers across tissues in 3D.
In creating such a detailed and complex atlas of tissue maps, researchers hope to answer big questions in pathology and aging with one particular goal being to better understand how healthy tissues vary on a cellular level. As the project continues into the mid-2020s, one can only hope that HuBMAP enables us to fill critical gaps in our knowledge of cells, tissues, and health.