Scientist Develops ‘Google Maps’ For The Body

By marrying Zeiss’ imaging technology with Google’s map stitching capabilities, researchers have developed a method to zoom in on the body’s tissues and cells.

AsianScientist (Apr. 20, 2015) – Using a previously top-secret technology to zoom through the human body down to the level of a single cell could create a ‘Google Maps’ for the body. Papers discussing the use of such technology for human hip studies were presented at the Orthopedic Research Society meeting at the end of March.

The imaging technology, developed by high-tech German optical and industrial measurement manufacturer Zeiss, was originally developed to scan silicon wafers for defects. Using Google algorithms, University of New South Wales’ Professor Melissa Knothe Tate is able to zoom in and out from the scale of the whole joint down to the cellular level, reducing to a matter of weeks analyses that once took 25 years to complete.

Her team is also using cutting-edge microtome and MRI technology to examine how movement and weight bearing affects the movement of molecules within joints, exploring the relationship between blood, bone, lymphatics and muscle.

“For the first time we have the ability to go from the whole body down to how the cells are getting their nutrition and how this is all connected,” said Knothe Tate. “This could open the door to as yet unknown new therapies and preventions.”

Numerous studies have explored molecular transport within specific tissues but there has been little research on exchange between different kinds of tissue such as cartilage and bone.

The imaging technique showing early and advanced osteoporosis. Credit: UNSW.
The imaging technique showing early and advanced osteoporosis. Credit: UNSW.

Knothe Tate has already demonstrated a link between molecular transport through blood, muscle and bone, and disease status in osteoarthritic guinea pigs. Like humans, guinea pigs develop osteoarthritis as they age. The condition is increasingly believed to be the result of a breakdown in cellular communication. Understanding the molecular signaling and traffic between tissues could unlock a range of treatments, including physical therapies and preventative exercise routines, Knothe Tate said.

Critical to this work has been the development of microscopy that allows seamless imaging of organs and tissues across length scales–centimeters at the whole-joint level down to nanometer-sized molecules–as well as the capacity to sift and analyse huge sets of data.

Knothe Tate likened using the Zeiss technology in the hipbone to Google Maps’ ability to zoom down from an Earth View to Street View.

“These are terabyte-sized data sets so the Google maps algorithms are helping us take this tremendous amount of information and use it effectively. They’re the traffic controllers, if you like,” she explained.


Source: University of New South Wales.
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