The algorithms used for zooming in and out on Google Maps and Google Street View have made it possible to visually traverse through layers of the body – starting with a whole joint and drilling all the way down to the cellular level. The new imaging system could have huge implications in medicine because it drastically reduces the time required to analyze and compare data.
The system draws on the combined expertise and technology of University of New South Wales (UNSW) professor Melissa Knothe Tate, Google, Brown and Stanford Universities, Cleveland Clinic, and optics and medical device manufacturer Zeiss. It uses imaging technology originally developed to scan for defects in silicon wafers, and with help from Google's Maps algorithms the researchers can zoom and pan through a whole organ or tissue joint all the way down to individual cells.
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Unlike Google's Body Browser, which visualizes the layers of the body in three-dimensional rendered graphics, this so-called "Google Maps for the Body" uses real images that get seamlessly stitched together and layered on top of each other.
"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 Professor Knothe Tate. "This could open the door to as yet unknown new therapies and preventions."
Knothe Tate has already used the system to demonstrate a link in osteoarthritic guinea pigs between disease status and molecular transport through blood, muscle, and bone. The condition appears to be the result of a breakdown in cellular communication. Understanding how this signalling should work, and where it goes wrong, could unlock a range of treatments such as physical therapies and preventative exercises.
You can learn more about the imaging system in the video below and try it out for yourself on a human hip bone on UNSW's MechBio site.