GIS and Human Anatomy

Mark Altaweel


The human body is a complex space where many vital anatomical functions often occur in the same adjacent space. Mapping and monitoring the human body in real time is one area of great opportunity for medical and healthcare professionals.

Examples of using GIS in understanding the human body

One example includes using GIS and acupuncture, where different parts of the body would be affected by needles. Monitoring allows the visualization in a 3D topological model to visualize the depth and point affected by a needle.[1]

Mapping in general has become an important area, as it allows the enhancement of traditional MRI or CAT scan technologies so that images can be not only incorporated to create 3D models but real time monitoring of the body and integration of different medical data could be applied to see how the body changes under different conditions that include threats or potential health problems.

In essence, a 4D model that integrates imaging technologies and utilizes the analytical capacities of GIS allow more effective monitoring and assessment to be made than traditional scanning technologies which only provide the visual data.[2]

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Image: Making a Human Body Map -- Pasco Corporation
Image: Making a Human Body Map — Pasco Corporation

Medical mapping in ArcGIS

Other forms of GIS, including in ArcGIS, have been used to monitor the success of clinical procedures in intervention.

For instance, lesions have been mapped in the body and the characteristics of these lesions, including their morphology and attributes, monitored to see if changes occur. These sets of data are applied using autocorrelation to see if spatial variations in the data suggest procedure failure in assessed lesions.

Least squares regression is further used to measure size, recurrence, and distance factors in the lesion, where significant p-values would suggest clinical outcome failure.[3]

In essence, both visualization and spatial statistics provided by GIS allow visual and statistical confirmation of pathological features in the human body to suggest abnormal conditions. This further demonstrates how GIS could be more powerful than simply relying on imaging technology for medical diagnosis.


[1] For more information on how GIS is used in monitoring in acupuncture procedures, see:  Barbeito, A., Cabral, P., and M. Painho, 2011. Human body modeling in geographic information systems: Application to acupuncture. Proceedings of the 6th Iberian Conference on Information Systems and Technologies, CISTI 2011, pg. 1-6.

[2] For more on 4D uses of GIS for monitoring the human body, see:  Barbeito, A., Painho, M., Cabral, P., & O’Neill, J. G. (2016). Exploring the human body space: a geographical information system based anatomical atlas. Journal of Spatial Information Science. (in press).

[3] For more information on how spatial statistics and GIS are used in monitoring success of clinical intervention, see:  Garb, Jane L, Sabha Ganai, Ric Skinner, Christopher S Boyd, and Richard B Wait. 2007. “Using GIS for Spatial Analysis of Rectal Lesions in the Human Body.” International Journal of Health Geographics 6 (1): 11.


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About the author
Mark Altaweel
Mark Altaweel is a Reader in Near Eastern Archaeology at the Institute of Archaeology, University College London, having held previous appointments and joint appointments at the University of Chicago, University of Alaska, and Argonne National Laboratory. Mark has an undergraduate degree in Anthropology and Masters and PhD degrees from the University of Chicago’s Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations.