Australian research engineers have created a ‘Google Maps’ view of the body.

Using a previously top-secret technology to zoom through the human body - down to the level of a single cell – a team at the University of New South Wales says it could cut years off research and analysis times.

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 is leading the project, using semiconductor technology to explore inside the body, looking at osteoporosis and osteoarthritis in particular.

Using Google mapping algorithms, Professor Knothe Tate is able to zoom in and out from the scale of the whole joint down to the cellular level.

She says it works “just as you would with Google Maps”, reducing to “a matter of weeks analyses that once took 25 years to complete”.

The 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.”

The project has been undertaken in collaboration with some of the biggest names in high-tech engineering.

A partnership with the US-based Cleveland Clinic, Brown and Stanford Universities, as well as Zeiss and Google have helped the UNSW team crunch terabytes of data gathered from human hip studies.

“These are terabyte-sized data sets so the Google maps algorithms are helping us take this tremendous amount of information and use it effectively,” Professor Knothe Tate said.

“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.”

The technique shares aspects in common with a mind-blowing development in the US, where researchers have used high-resolution imaging to see the brain working in real-time at a resolution never before achieved.