Google Maps for the Body


Professor Melissa Knothe Tate. Photo: Grant Turner/Mediakoo

A previously top-secret semiconductor technology created by German optical and industrial manufacturer - Zeiss has been combined with Google’s industry-leading map programming to zoom in and out of the human body, from the scale of a whole joint down to that of a cellular level.

Other imaging techniques, such as MRI gives “the equivalent of looking at a map of the United States or a map of Europe, where you see the individual country borders” Knothe Tate, a professor from UNSW, was quoted. This technology allows the visualisation of “individual inhabitants within the cities and the countries.”

The cutting-edge technology provided by Zeiss, initially intended to scan silicon wafer for defects, has been developed to provide high resolution images down to an individual cell. By combining over 2 million incredibly detailed images, a ‘full picture’ of a hip joint biopsy was formed. However, the ability to zoom in and out of the image was taken from the Google Maps app. The algorithms were employed to allow zooming in and out of the hip joint from the layer of the skin, down to individual cells within bone. The formation of the image required terabytes of data analysis, thankfully, pioneering relationships with Cleveland Clinic, Brown and Stanford Universities, in addition to Zeiss and Google, helped crunch the data in a matter of weeks.

Professor Knothe Tate, an engineer and specialist in cell biology and regenerative medicine, has

previously published several papers into the human hip and osteoarthritis (joint stiffness), demonstrating a link between molecule transport through blood and bone with disease status in Guinea pig. Similar to humans, Guinea pigs can develop osteoarthritis as they grow older, which is believed to be due to a breakdown of communication between cells. The technology allowed


Knothe Tate and her team to see anomalies within the bone, and then zoom in closer to give a clearer look on how the cells are behaving alone, and in response to their environment.

Knothe Tate believes that this technology could unlock the secrets behind osteoarthritis, allowing new preventative measures and a range of treatments to be revealed. Whereas Knothe Tate and her team are the first to use this system in humans, they certainly aren’t the last with Harvard University and Heidelberg in Germany adopting similar techniques to map pathways and connections in the brains of mice in the hope of opening new avenues for therapeutic targeting.

The fascinating use of this technology could soon urge detailing of the entire human body, just as the Human Genome Project encouraged the sequencing of the human genome. This would allow viewing of the entirety of the human body, much like Google Maps with the earth, with the ability to zoom in and out to a cellular level. Evidently, this ability would greater our skills to diagnose and treat diseases, as well as providing critical information about the ageing process.

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