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Scientists at the University of Cambridge have created a virtual reality software which lets researchers walk inside and analyse individual cells.
The software called vLUME, developed along with a 3D image analysis software firm, Lume, could be used to understand fundamental problems in biology and develop new treatment for diseases.
The VR system allows super-resolution microscopy data to be visualised and analysed in virtual reality, and can be used to study everything from individual proteins to entire cells.
Super-resolution microscopy, which was awarded the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 2014, makes it possible to obtain images at the nanoscale. However, researchers could not come across ways to visualise and analyse the data obtained through this method in three dimension until vLUME.
The software can be loaded with multiple datasets carrying millions of data points, and find patterns using in-built clustering algorithms. These findings can then be shared with collaborators worldwide using image and video features in the software.
Biology occurs in 3D, but up until now it has been difficult to interact with the data on a 2D computer screen in an intuitive and immersive way, Dr Steven F Lee, lead researcher, Cambridges Department of Chemistry, said in a statement. It wasnt until we started seeing our data in virtual reality that everything clicked into place.
While Alexandre Kitching, CEO of Lume said the software will allow scientists to visualise, question and interact with 3D biological data, in real time within a virtual reality environment.
Data generated from super-resolution microscopy is extremely complex, he added. For scientists, running analysis on this data can be very time-consuming. With vLUME, we have managed to vastly reduce that wait time allowing for more rapid testing and analysis.
A student from the group of researchers used the software to image an immune cell taken from her own blood, and then stood inside her own cell in virtual reality.
Its incredible - it gives you an entirely different perspective on your work, she said.
Lee said segmenting and viewing the data in vLUME, has enabled him and his team to quickly rule out certain hypotheses and propose new ones.
All you need is a VR headset, he added.