Heart Cell Atlas will illuminate our understanding of heart health and disease
Scientists have created a cellular and molecular map of the healthy human heart, to understand how this vital organ functions, and to shed light on what goes wrong in cardiovascular disease.
Researchers from the Wellcome Sanger Institute, Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine (MDC), Germany, Harvard Medical School, Imperial College London and their global collaborators analyzed almost half a million individual cells to build a first extensive draft cell atlas of the human heart. The atlas shows the huge diversity of cells and reveals heart muscle cell types, cardiac protective immune cells, and the intricate network of blood vessels. It also predicts how the cells communicate to keep the heart working.
Published today in Nature (24 September), this study is part of the Human Cell Atlas initiative to map every cell type in the human body. The new molecular and cellular knowledge of the heart will enable a better understanding of heart disease and guide more personalized medicine. It could also potentially lead to regenerative medicine in the future.
The heart is an essential organ that pumps blood around the body, enabling oxygen and nutrients to be delivered and carbon dioxide and waste products to be carried away from other vital organs and tissues. Each day, the heart beats around 100,000 times with a one-way flow through four different chambers, varying speed with rest, exercise and stress. This is extremely complex and needs the cells in each part of the heart to coordinate with each other for every heartbeat.
Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death worldwide, killing an estimated 17.9 million people each year, with heart attacks and strokes causing the majority of these. To understand what happens during heart disease and create better therapeutic strategies, it is vital to know the intricate molecular processes in the cells of the healthy heart.