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Creating a global atlas of the musculoskeletal system

Staff and students at the computational training module at the African Institute of Biomedical Science and Technology in Zimbabwe.

The Ancestrally Inclusive Musculoskeletal Single-cell (AIMS) network unites partners from Argentina, the Gambia, India, Malaysia, Oman, Turkey, the UK, and Zimbabwe to develop the first ancestrally inclusive cellular atlas of the healthy human musculoskeletal (MSK) system for the Human Cell Atlas (HCA).

The bony skeleton and soft connective tissues of the MSK system constitute one-third of an adult's body mass, providing body structure and movement capabilities. However, approximately 1.71 billion people worldwide experience painful and disabling MSK conditions. The severity and prevalence of MSK disorders vary based on ancestry, and effective treatments and diagnostics are limited. Cellular atlases of healthy tissues can help address these challenges, but it is crucial that any cellular reference dataset represents global populations.

In this three-year project funded by the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, our interdisciplinary team is collecting healthy adult tissues from orthopaedic centres worldwide before performing single-cell sequencing and spatial mapping. By disseminating training in single-cell analysis and co-creating community engagement resources in conjunction with our tissue atlases, we aim to ensure that future advances in MSK medicine are ethnically appropriate and equitably distributed.