No, you won’t need Dennis Quaid to travel to the Innerspace of your body–just a little Google Maps know-how. Researchers at the University of South Wales, borrowing the algorithms Google Maps uses to make sense of large volumes of data, have mapped out human tissues down to the level of the human cell, says Gizmodo. They scanned a human hip joint with an electron microscope and used the scale-zooming Maps algorithms to accomplish molecular analysis in weeks that would have previously taken 25 years. And they have even put it online for you to peer into the molecular mysteries of the human hip.
The researchers used Zeiss imaging tech, which is typically used to scan for defects in silicon wafers, to capture and record terabytes of image data. The Google Maps algorithms arranged the image data to let viewers navigate around and zoom in and out. The researchers hope to combine this visualized data with computer models to understand how different health conditions affect the body over time, says head of the project professor Melissa Knothe Tate. The tool allows scientists to do something they have not been able to do before, says Knothe Tate in a promotional video: connect the cell’s health to a debilitating disease like osteoporosis.
Tate and her colleagues have only imaged a hip joint thus far, but there is no reason they cannot continue with the rest of the body. And there is ample reason for doing so. For the first time, scientists have the ability to zoom from seeing the whole body down viewing how the cells are getting their nutrition and how they are all connected, says Knothe Tate in a press release.
Knothe Tate is not alone in pioneering new methods of mapping the body. The Toronto-based startup Synaptive Medical’s BrightMatter Planning creates multicolored, interactive 3-D brain layouts to help medical professionals plan their approach to navigate the brain’s dense fiber clusters before surgery. With traditional 2-D “bread slice” brain images, surgeons might take more direct paths, but the 3-D layouts help surgeons plot a route that does the least damage to the brain, potentially saving function or even eyesight, Synaptive Medical founder Cameron Piron told Fast Company.