3D tour of a tumour improves understanding of disease

While it is a remarkable technology, virtual reality’s most common applications are for gaming and entertainment. There is certainly nothing wrong with that, but scientists at Cambridge University have found a more practical use for VR: fighting cancer. Using a sample of breast cancer tumour tissue, the researchers have built a 3D model of the tumour. This allows them to examine it more closely than under a microscope and share it with doctors around the world.

As Prof. Greg Hannon, director of Cancer Research UK (CRUK) told the BBC, “No-one has examined the geography of a tumour in this level of detail before. It is a new way of looking at cancer.”

Over the next five years, CRUK will invest more than $70 million in research projects such as the virtual tumour in an effort to find a cure for cancer. The deadly disease comes in more than 100 varieties affecting humans.

3d tour of tumor, the venture magazine

Human cancer cell.3d rendering

“This is an enormous challenge,” Hannon said. “I liken it to the idea of putting a man on Mars — there’s so much technology that you have to develop to do it. All sorts of things are happening in tumours that we can’t study using the technology we have. But with our project, we hope to change that.

“We want to create an interactive, faithful, 3D map of tumours that can be studied in virtual reality that scientists can ‘walk into’ and look at it in great detail. By doing this, we could learn more about tumours and begin to answer questions that have eluded cancer scientists for many years.”

By studying 5,000 samples of pancreatic, kidney, oesophageal, and bowel cancer from all over the world, the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute hopes to better understand the causes of certain tumours as part of CRUK’s “Grand Challenge.”

“The thing that’s really exciting me is the challenge of making it all happen,” Prof. Mike Stratton of the Sanger Institute said, “and I’m looking forward to seeing the answers this work brings.”