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Mark Zuckerberg and Dr Priscilla Chan / Facebook

Although an ambitious thought, one day we all hope to live in a world where every disease can be cured, prevented or managed. And it seems we are taking steps in the right direction with the help of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his paediatrician wife, Priscilla Chan.

The end goal involves the mapping every cell of the human body, which is regarded as the highest priority for most scientists. According to neuroscientist and president of science for the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, Cori Bargmann outlines that the Human Cell Atlas, which is on the same type of scale as the Human Genome Project, is looking at 30 trillion cells to identify properties and patterns, the way cells relate to each other, and the effect of demographic differences.

The cell atlas is an international effort to map and characterise all cells in the healthy human body. It is led by the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute and the Broad Institute, in collaboration with leaders from across the international scientific community.

The Biohub is an independent nonprofit created to connect scientists at Stanford, UC San Francisco, and UC Berkeley – and one of its projects is work that supports the broader Human Cell Atlas effort.

“The brain power of these three institutions is tremendous, but they’ve never done a research project together. There’s such an opportunity to bring people together to solve problems, and that is what the Biohub is trying to do,” Dr Bargmann told the audience at the Big Data in Biomedicine 2017 Conference.

Three-way collaboration is considered a rarity, explained Euan Ashley, MB ChB, DPhil, associate professor of medicine and genetics at Stanford University. “USCS has medicine and Berkley has math and engineering, whereas Stanford has both.”

Dr Ashley believes that the cell atlas has worldwide potential. He added, “I love the investigator-centred approach to funding science. This has been shown time and again to encourage high-impact, risky research that wouldn’t be funded through other mechanisms.”

In order to highlight the capability of the project, Dr Bargmann noted that the end of the century is 83 years from now and we should remember what has happened in the 83 years since 1934. Back then there were no antibiotics, statins, or blood pressure drugs, as well as no understanding of the link between smoking and cancer.

This gentle reminder of how far we’ve come definitely encourages us to get excited about the future, and in hopefully squashing disease.