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Adam and Eve -- bit by little bit.

To determine what is normal, physicians who peer inside the body often must compare what they see against some standard reference. In the past, these have tended to be wasl charts, plastic models, or textbooks. Increasingly, however, research groups are developing computerized atlases -- three-dimensional road maps of the body. A single keystroke on a computer can retrieve portrayals of any part of the anatomy from any desired angle. While these references can offer unparalleled detail and versatility, the best of them today cover only very small portions of the body, such as the brain (SN: 12/11/93, p.392).

One reason for this is the lack of high-resolution digital data for the entire body. The National Library of Medicine (NLM) in Bethesda, Md., hopes to overcome this obstacle soon, according to Michael J. Ackerman. He coordinates NLM's "Adam and Eve project"--the head-to-toe mapping of a man and a woman.

The effort has already produced a complete X-ray atlas of "Adam." Compiled using computerized axial tomography (CAT) scans, each of its 1,735 cross-sectional images corresponds to a different 1-millimeter-thick "slice" through the body, Ackerman explains. A related set of soft-tissue maps -- each representing a 3-mm-thick corss section--has been collected using magnetic resonance imaging. Currently, researchers at the University of Denver are physically cutting Adam, a frozen cadaver, into sequential slices and photographing each in full color. These also will be converted to digital form.

When completed this spring, the resulting 20-gigabyte file will be indexed, making it possible for users to home in on discrete regions of the body, such as the eye or heart.

The entire block of data will be available to anyone with a computer powerful enough to load and use it. Those with access to Internet, Ackerman says, can download that data free of charge. NLM also expects to prepare what Ackerman's team jokingly refers to as a "edition of the file. Small enough to fit on one or two CD-ROM disks, this scaled-down version will serve users with smaller computers.

Though a candidate Eve has already been chosen, Ackerman says that NLM won't commit itself to using this cadaver until researchers have finished with Adam. Like Adam, the final selection of an Eve won't be based on race, height, weight, or external comeliness. The cadavers are instead being chosen to represent healthy people generally.

Ackerman predicts that if these anatomical data prove useful, NLM Will develop other, similar resources. Indeed, he says, NLM "hopes to build and entire digital library for medicine" -- encompassing all development stages, from infancy through old age--that will exhibit the complex changes and pathologies that define humanity.
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Title Annotation:mapping the body with x-ray technology
Publication:Science News
Date:Jan 8, 1994
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