Virtual reality, a leap into cancer cells

22 August 2016
Lab director John McGhee is calling the project that places cells into a VR environment the stuff of science fiction. By using data pulled from a high-resolution electron-microscope at the University of Queensland, the expert in CGI has recreated a breast cancer cell in virtual reality, built upon the Unity  development platform for video games.

McGhees team created a 3D mesh of the cell adding texture, colour, light and any effects. Scientists can put on a  HTC Vive VR headset and essentially step into the petri dish and observe nanoparticle drugs being absorbed. They can use hand controllers to navigate the cell. At the moment the experience is used mainly for educational purposes.

McGhee says that immersing oneself  in a headset really helps “ to get your head around complicated processes versus if you just see something on a screen. It's really allowing you to walk through data in a new way."

VR put to use for patients

The 3D Visualisation Aesthetics Lab uses another VR headset, the Oculus Rift, for a project that
focuses on the use of virtual reality in the rehabilitation of stroke patients. In this McGhee works together with Steven Faux, director of rehabilitation at St Vincent's Hospital Sydney.

To create the experience, the medical team takes a patient's MRI or CT scan and determines the mechanism of the stroke they suffered. Then a neuroradiologist removes any extraneous parts of the image  and give the data to McGhee, who turns it into a virtual tour of the patient's blood vessels and recreates the stroke. Faux told Mashable Australia:"If it was a slow closing off the blood vessels, we show that ... if it was a clot that came from the heart and blocked a major blood vessel leading to the brain, we show that."

Faux said the impact on patients is often remarkable. For many, it's the first time they've truly understood what happened to them. The experience seems to help by enhancing patients’ motivation to engage in rehabilitation. Take the virtual tour

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