'Google Maps' for the body: A biomedical revolution

March 30, 2015 by Amy Coopes, University of New South Wales
The imaging technique showing early and advanced osteoporosis. Image: Supplied

A world-first UNSW collaboration that uses previously top-secret technology to zoom through the human body down to the level of a single cell could be a game-changer for medicine, an international research conference in the United States has been told.

The imaging technology, developed by high-tech German optical and industrial measurement manufacturer Zeiss, was originally developed to scan silicon wafers for defects.

UNSW Professor Melissa Knothe Tate, the Paul Trainor Chair of Biomedical Engineering, is leading the project, using semiconductor technology to explore osteoporosis and osteoarthritis.

Using Google algorithms, Professor Knothe Tate - an engineer and expert in cell biology and regenerative medicine - is able to zoom in and out from the scale of the whole joint down to the cellular level "just as you would with Google Maps", 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 Professor Knothe Tate. "This could open the door to as yet unknown new therapies and preventions."

Biomedical engineer Professor Melissa Knothe Tate and her team are zooming in and out of the human body right down to single cells. Starting with the knee joint, the researchers can figure out how cells interact and impact on conditions like osteoarthritis.

Professor Knothe Tate is the first to use the system in humans. She has forged a pioneering partnership with the US-based Cleveland Clinic, Brown and Stanford Universities, as well as Zeiss and Google to help crunch terabytes of data gathered from human hip studies.

Similar research is underway at Harvard University and Heidelberg in Germany to map neural pathways and connections in the brains of mice.

Professor Knothe Tate presented several papers on her research into the human hip and osteoarthritis at the peer-reviewed Orthopedic Research Society meeting in Las Vegas.

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

Professor 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, Professor Knothe Tate said.

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

Professor 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."

"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."

Explore further: Using stem cells from hip replacements to help treat ageing adults

Related Stories

Using stem cells from hip replacements to help treat ageing adults

January 30, 2014
(Medical Xpress)—The tissue normally discarded during routine hip replacements could be a rich new source of adult stem cells for use in regenerative medicine, UNSW-led research has found.

It's all in the wrapping: Mimicking periosteum to heal traumatic bone injury

December 13, 2011
A manmade package filled with nature's bone-building ingredients delivers the goods over time and space to heal serious bone injuries faster than products currently available, Cleveland researchers have found.

Stem cell scientists first to track joint cartilage development in humans

December 13, 2013
(Medical Xpress)—Stem cell researchers from UCLA have published the first study to identify the origin cells and track the early development of human articular cartilage, providing what could be a new cell source and biological ...

Recommended for you

Researchers illustrate how muscle growth inhibitor is activated, could aid in treating ALS

January 19, 2018
Researchers at the University of Cincinnati (UC) College of Medicine are part of an international team that has identified how the inactive or latent form of GDF8, a signaling protein also known as myostatin responsible for ...

Bioengineered soft microfibers improve T-cell production

January 18, 2018
T cells play a key role in the body's immune response against pathogens. As a new class of therapeutic approaches, T cells are being harnessed to fight cancer, promising more precise, longer-lasting mitigation than traditional, ...

Weight flux alters molecular profile, study finds

January 17, 2018
The human body undergoes dramatic changes during even short periods of weight gain and loss, according to a study led by researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine.

Secrets of longevity protein revealed in new study

January 17, 2018
Named after the Greek goddess who spun the thread of life, Klotho proteins play an important role in the regulation of longevity and metabolism. In a recent Yale-led study, researchers revealed the three-dimensional structure ...

The HLF gene protects blood stem cells by maintaining them in a resting state

January 17, 2018
The HLF gene is necessary for maintaining blood stem cells in a resting state, which is crucial for ensuring normal blood production. This has been shown by a new research study from Lund University in Sweden published in ...

Magnetically applied MicroRNAs could one day help relieve constipation

January 17, 2018
Constipation is an underestimated and debilitating medical issue related to the opioid epidemic. As a growing concern, researchers look to new tools to help patients with this side effect of opioid use and aging.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.