'Google Maps for the Body' Is In the Making

The project, which is being developed by an international group of scientists, will allow users to explore the human body on a cellular level.
Chris Young

The body of a human adult is composed of trillions of cells that are invisible to the naked eye. Though modern science has uncovered much of the mystery regarding how these cells interact, the truth is that much is still unknown to us.

A group of scientists has decided to help further our understanding of the ways these cells connect, interact, and arrange into tissues and organs within our bodies by building a "Google Maps of the body" that allows anyone to take a deep dive into the human body on a cellular level.


"Our current ways of overall mapping the human body are limited," Jonathan Silverstein, a visiting professor in the Department of Biomedical Informatics at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, explains in a press release. "There’s not enough data right now to address different diseases."

Silverstein is part of an international group of medical scientists that are working on creating the new interactive cellular 3D map of the human body, described as "Google Maps for the body."

The Human BioMolecular Atlas Program — or HuBMAP for short — aims to create an atlas of sorts that can be used predominantly by medical doctors to help them visualize, study and understand the human body with an incredible level of detail.

HuBMAP is composed of 18 collaborative research teams from across the United States and Europe. In order to map the human body, the researchers take blood samples from different parts of the body from donors. These samples are then weaved together digitally to create the 3D human body map.

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A full map of the human body will have various real-world uses. For example, it can help doctors the development or progression of a disease, as well as helping doctors or educators visualize the body for their patients or students.

This week, HuBMAP released its first data to the world, which can be found at portal.hubmapconsortium.org.

"Comparing normal cells to different disease conditions will be very informative for developing strategies to treat a variety of diseases," Silverstein explains. 

“I’ve done a lot of big projects in my career, but this is without a doubt the most exciting one because the number of ways this is going to be used is just extraordinary,” he continued. “It will be a large, national resource for a long time.”

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