Cancer research and popular consumer technology have collided once again as MIT researchers under neuroscientist Ed Boyden work at recreating a tumor, inside and out, to explore in virtual reality. The team has earned some favor from Cancer Research UK for their work, who has awarded them around $24 million as part of their Cancer Research UK Grand Challenge Award. The way that the technology involved works is by taking a biopsy of a malignant tumor, using sodium polyacrylate to increase its size roughly 100 times, then analyzing it in and out to not only see what it's made of, but also to create a 3D picture of the biopsied tissue that researchers and doctors can explore in a specialized virtual reality application.
The 3D recreation of the tumor can not only be explored in VR down to the cellular level, but contains data on the function and type of different cells, allowing viewers to see exactly what cells are where, what the cells are doing, and how they are communicating and interacting. The goal here is to be able to give everybody involved, from patients to scientists, a chance to see what makes a tumor tick, and to gain a better understanding of a tumor's inner workings, makeup, and layout. The type of VR apparatus used in early tests is not being revealed, but it is to be assumed that the models and application created will be compatible with most, if not all virtual reality ecosystems in order to allow the widest possible range of patients a better understanding of what they're up against.
A secondary goal of the project is to allow for remote viewing and interaction, giving patients a better understanding of their condition. The technology would allow doctors and patients to look at the cancer simultaneously, allowing patients to see exactly what doctors are seeing and better understand their treatment. Doctors, meanwhile, will be able to figure out the subtype of cancer they're looking at much more easily than the normal methods or chemical testing or manual use of a microscope, and with more accuracy to boot. Virtual reality is finding itself in more and more use cases these days, and this one will not only make treatment quicker and easier in individual cases, but could result in compiled data over time that would give researchers a much better picture of what cancer is and how it works.