Human Cell Atlas (HCA) is a scientist-led, international effort to map all cells in the human body

BOSTON – (June 28, 2019 – Researchers from Joslin Diabetes Center have been selected by the Chan-Zuckerberg Initiative (CZI) as one of 38 collaborative science teams that will launch CZI’s Seed Networks for a Human Cell Atlas projects.

These collaborative groups will bring together scientists, computational biologists, software engineers, and physicians to support the continued development of the Human Cell Atlas (HCA), an international effort to map all cells in the human body.  

Participants in the three-year Seed Networks projects will focus on mapping specific tissues, such as the heart, eye, or liver, in the healthy human body. The resulting cellular and molecular maps will be a resource for understanding what goes wrong when disease strikes. 

The Joslin group will focus on the variety of adipose tissue in healthy humans through chemical imaging, and single-cell and single-nucleus RNA sequencing from adipocytes and adipocyte precursors with distinct anatomical origins and metabolic function.

Principal investigators from Joslin will be Yu-Hua Tseng, PhD, Senior Investigator in the Section on Integrative Physiology and Metabolism at Joslin Diabetes Center, and an Associate Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School — and Mary-Elizabeth Patti, MD, Investigator, Co-Director of the Joslin Advanced Genetics and Genomics Core, Director of the Hypoglycemia Clinic at Joslin and Associate Professor of Medicine, Harvard Medical School. 

The HCA project is extremely important...

George King, MD
Chief Scientific Officer at Joslin Diabetes Center

George L. King, MD, Chief Scientific Officer at Joslin and Professor of Medicine and Professor of Ophthalmology at Harvard Medical School, stated, "The HCA project is extremely important, much like the Human Genome project, since all humans are made up of thousands of types of cells. Dr. Tseng and Dr. Patti’s contribution to identifying the different types of cells in adipose tissues will be critical for all fields of science and human diseases, but it is especially essential for understanding the causes and treatments of metabolic diseases such as diabetes and obesity which are major public health problems throughout the world."

Dr. Patti added, "Adipose tissue is so critical for regulating the body’s metabolism.  Identifying differences in function and gene regulation between cells within adipose tissue in different parts of the human body will be essential to understanding how this complex tissue functions in healthy individuals, but also how it may contribute to risk for chronic disease. "

“Adipose tissue plays a pivotal role in metabolism. In the past decade, we have learned there are different types of fat, including the calorie-storing white fat and the energy-burning brown and beige/brite fat," said Dr Tseng. "We’ve also come to the realization that cellular components of adipose tissue are key to its metabolic function and to the associated pathologies. With the support from this funding, now we are able to dissect the human adipose tissue at the single cell resolution.”

The group also includes Aaron Streets, PhD, Assistant Professor, Bioengineering, University of California, Berkeley, and Nir Yosef, PhD, Assistant Professor, Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences, University of California, Berkeley.

“The global Human Cell Atlas effort is a beacon for what can be accomplished when experts across scientific fields and time zones work together towards a common goal,” said CZI Head of Science Cori Bargmann. “With CZI’s Seed Networks grants, we’re excited to further support and build interdisciplinary collaborations that will accelerate progress towards a first draft of the Human Cell Atlas.” 

According to CZI, the Seed Networks grantees represent more than 20 countries and 200 labs, with 45 percent of projects featuring international collaborations. These networks will support coordination between scientists and engineers, solidify collaborations, and help generate valuable data and tools for the first draft of the Atlas.

CZI expects the Seed Networks projects to generate new tools, open source analysis methods, and significant contributions of diverse data types to the Human Cell Atlas Data Coordination Platform, a unified resource that will enable data sharing across researchers and research institutes. CZI plans to make all the data, protocols and computational tools developed as a part of Seed Networks freely available to the research community. 

About the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative
Founded by Dr. Priscilla Chan and Mark Zuckerberg in 2015, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative (CZI) is a new kind of philanthropy that’s leveraging technology to help solve some of the world’s toughest challenges — from eradicating disease, to improving education, to reforming the criminal justice system. Across three core Initiative focus areas of Science, Education, and Justice & Opportunity, we’re pairing engineering with grant-making, impact investing, and policy and advocacy work to help build an inclusive, just and healthy future for everyone. For more information, please visit

About Joslin Diabetes Center
Joslin Diabetes Center is world-renowned for its deep expertise in diabetes treatment and research. Joslin is dedicated to finding a cure for diabetes and ensuring that people with diabetes live long, healthy lives.  We develop and disseminate innovative patient therapies and scientific discoveries throughout the world. Joslin is an independent, non-profit institution affiliated with Harvard Medical School, and one of only 11 NIH-designated Diabetes Research Centers in the U.S.  For more information, visit or follow @joslindiabetes  |  One Joslin Place, Boston, MA 617-309-2400