Researchers from the University of New South Wales have taken the algorithms that drive Google Maps and built a system that lets users zoom in to view elements of the human body - all the way to cellular level.
Led by Professor Melissa Knothe Tate at UNSW's school of biomedical engineering, the project uses scanning technology devised for semiconductor fabrication by German optical specialist Zeiss to obtain the imagery.
Such microscopy allows for seamless imaging of organs and tissue from the centimetre scale down to nanometre-sized molecules.
The resulting data sets are very large, spanning terabytes in size. This has pushed Professor Knothe Tate to borrow Google Maps algorithms sift through the vast amount of information at hand, and create zoomable images of the body.
Knothe Tate and her team are currently using the system to probe the characteristics of the human hip and the causes of osteoarthritis.
“Advanced research instrumentation provides a technological platform to answer the hardest, unanswered questions in science, opening up avenues for fundamental discoveries, the implications of which may be currently unfathomable yet which will ultimately pave the way to engineer better human health and quality of life as we age,” Professor Knothe Tate said in a statement.
Similar research is taking place at universities in the United States and Germany, but Professor Knothe Tate is the first to use the system in humans, presenting several research papers on the hip and osteoarthritis to the peer-reviewed Orthopaedic Research Society meeting in Las Vegas.
A zoomable image of a hip bone has been made available by the UNSW school of biomedical engineering.