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Making a Human Body Map -- Pasco Corporation

Making a Human Body Map

Pasco Corporation

Pasco Corporation is a pioneer in the field of geographic information systems (GIS) in Japan. Pasco now aims to apply its well-established GIS technology to establish an information analysis system of a human body, making use of database creation and plotting techniques in geographical space. This attempt is truly the leading edge of GIS technology. Nature Interface interviewed Dr. Mitsuru Sato, the team leader of the Department of GIS Frontier Promotion of Pasco. He talked about the application of GIS technology to a human body map.

Making a Three-Dimensional Map of the Human Body

A 3D map of a human body is made in the same way that a geographical map is made by performing surveys. A geographical map is drawn based on the digital information of data from aerial photographs and sensors. Similarly, a human body map is made based on the scanned images such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) instead of aerial photographs. Three-dimensional coordinates are plotted on this map and the position of each body part and that of the focal area are displayed with coordinate values. When a human body is compared with a geographical map, blood vessels and the nervous system are set as line data just as roads and rivers are, while internal organs are set as polygons. A human body map is made with 3D models of a human body because a body needs to be approached three-dimensionally.

Development of Three-Dimensional Coordinates

When we measure a human body, just as when we survey a piece of land, we have to establish the control points of a human body. We cannot use a measuring device unless there is a control point of the measurement. In this case, setting a control point of the measure means finding the center of gravity of the human body. Our search for the center was quite painstaking.

The bones of the human body are easily strained by various physical stresses, because most bones are symmetrical. But among these bones, we also find non-symmetrical bones at the center of the body: sacral spines. We decided to develop a three-dimensional coordinate system based on the sacral spines as the control point.

Assigning "Addresses" to Human Body Parts

Developing three-dimensional coordinates based on MRI scans, and then indicating the position of each body part and the focal area with coordinate values, is a process that resembles assigning addresses to locations on a map. This work is like assigning addresses to human body parts.

This map improves the method of analyzing a pathological area and predicting the change of the focal area, and it enables both numerical and visual approaches to treatment. This map breaks through the limits of individual observation, in which empirical rules predominate, and realizes systematic approaches to illnesses.

Making a Human Body Simulator

To make a human body simulator, we first create information system objects by dividing a human body into component information systems using human body coordinates. Then, we establish data that can manage the functions of the human body and make a human body simulator that can be applied to various experiments. That is, we create object data for the skeletal system, muscular system, organ system, blood vessel system and nervous system, and then establish their management systems. This method is the application of the spatial analysis method of GIS, like the basic analysis method to create an object of each component, such as roads, rivers and buildings, and to pile up each layer of data.

The Need that Led to the New System

Though the attempt to make a 3-D map of a human body seems bold, this is a frontier field of GIS technology born from the sheer accumulation of spatial information analysis technology.

To place this research in context, it should be noted that the current health care system needs to resolve various difficulties. The conventional medical diagnostics have relied much on doctors' empirical estimates. In addition, the divisions of medicine have become so specialized that holistic diagnoses are now rarely made. Meanwhile, elaborate and detailed data on the human body are required in medical education, as the importance of informed consent is perceived widely in society and doctors are required to explain treatment methods to patients who don't have special medical knowledge.

The object of spatial analyses of urban areas has shifted from annual to real-time changes, and spatial analyses have come to regard urban space as an organism. On the other hand, the attempt to make a 3-D map of a human body approaches the human body as a structural space. Though analyses of urban space and the human body seem to be very different, they in fact have much in common and may compensate each other in the search for new viewpoints and methodologies.

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