Friday, December 3

Human Organ Atlas: they use the most powerful X-rays in the world to create a map of our organs with an accuracy never seen before

The X-rays used for this technique have been 100 billion times brighter than those used in a normal CT scanner. It is not surprising, as scientists have decided to take advantage of the new generation of the European Synchrotron Radiation Laboratory (ESRF) to apply it to the study of the organs of the human body.

The result is Human Organ Atlas, a compilation of CT scans of our organs with unprecedented precision. A set of 3D images among which a lung of a patient who died from Covid-19 can be seen and it was possible to study how the disease interrupted the oxygenation of the blood.

Our organs with up to 100 times higher resolution

The research has been published this week in the journal Nature and has been carried out by scientists from the University College de Londres. The new machine is named ‘Hierarchical Phase Contrast Tomography’ (HiP-CT) and harnesses the powerful X-rays of the synchrotron light laboratory to study human organs on a large scale like never before.

“CT scans and MRIs can be achieved down to just under a millimeter, while histology (biopsy sections under a microscope), electron microscopy (which uses an electron beam to generate images) and other similar techniques resolve structures with precision submicrons, but only in small tissue biopsies of an organ. HiP-CT unites these scales in 3D, obtaining images of whole organs to provide new insights into our biological structure “, Explain Peter Lee, project manager.

The new technique makes it possible to obtain X-ray images of whole organs with a resolution of up to one micrometer, which is the equivalent of 100 times what is achieved with a CT scan.

“This technology allows us to see in 3D the incredibly small vessels within an entire human organ, allowing us to distinguish in 3D a blood vessel from the surrounding tissue and even look at some specific cells“describes Paul Tafforeau, an ESRF scientist.

As a result of the use of this technique, the project has been launched Human Organ Atlas. It is a work reminiscent of that of Human Brain Project, where a map of the human brain was obtained with unprecedented precision that is helping its study. The work of the University College London team aims to lay the foundation for a deeper study of human anatomy and our major organs.


At the moment if we visit the Human Organ Atlas website there is no material available, but those responsible explain that will be openly available and organs such as the brain, lung, kidneys, heart or spleen can be seen.

In the specific case of the lung, several images will be offered, that of a healthy one and that of a sick one due to Covid-19. Over time, the researchers hope that this project will serve to broaden the study of diseases and how they affect different organs. A step that will lead them to try to generate a “library of diseases”, with high resolution images of healthy and affected organs.

More information | Nature