For most people, virtual reality is just an interesting piece of entertainment. It is quite an experience to play games or even watch movies in virtual reality. However VR may be a useful research tool for medical scientists as well. Now researchers from UNSW, Australia, are creating virtual reality technology that allows scientists to walk around the landscape of human cells.
This system allows scientists to see human cells in VR and analyse, for example, how cancer drugs are working. Essentially, scientists from Australia have managed to create a human model in VR, using the latest scientific data, microscopy images and animation. Scientists can immerse themselves in human body in cellular level by simply putting on headsets. Probably the best part about this achievement is that pretty much all the crucial components are readily available, since they are used in gaming and entertainment industries. In fact, it does look a lot like a game, but is very useful in a scientific setting.
Before scientists were experimenting with this technology before, but using only one person in the VR at a time. Now the latest advancements made it possible for multiple of scientists from around the globe to walk through the human cell at the same time. The ultimate goal is to increase accuracy of drug delivery, but for that researchers must understand how drugs are internalized by the cancer cell and how the cell itself works. Seeing it happen in front of your eyes allows researchers imagine the entire process better and this enhanced understanding may lead to better therapies and medicine.
Seeing cells move in real time can also improve understanding of the spreading of tumours. Cell walkthroughs of course are important in education too, which is why this technology is firstly trialled on Monash University pharmaceutical science students learning about cancer drug delivery. Scientists say that exam results of these students improve dramatically because visual learning is that much more effective.
Professor Maria Kavallaris, one of the researchers of this study, said: “We have never had access to something like this before. We hope it will help scientists better understand how and what happens if you interfere with a genetic process and add certain drugs. Eventually it could be a tool to explain to patients and their parents about types of cancer and strategies for treatment”.
Virtual reality technology is useful in so many different fields it almost seems it doesn’t get enough attention. In this case, it may improve education, allow sharing of information between scientists from across the globe and even explain the situation better to the patients themselves.