Institute of Astronomy

Virtual Reality Tumour

Published on 10/02/2017 


IMAXT: imaging and molecular annotation of xenografts and tumors

To fully understand cancer, scientists need to know everything about a tumour – what types of cells are in it, how many there are, what they are doing and where they are located in the tumour. Having such a detailed picture of a tumour would allow scientists and doctors to develop new ways to diagnose and treat the disease, and new ways to stop it spreading and coming back.
But getting such an accurate, precise picture of tumours is extremely difficult to do. So difficult that it's not been done before. In this Cancer Research UK Grand Challenge project, scientists aim to build a 3D tumour that can be studied using virtual reality and which shows every single different type of cell in the tumour.
The project is on such a vast scale that a large, multi-national team has been assembled. It includes scientists from as far afield as the west coast of Canada, Ireland, Switzerland, UK and US. Each team member is an expert in their field, from astronomy to DNA sequencing, virtual reality to molecular biology, and statistics to medicine. This varied expertise will be crucial in allowing the team to combine established techniques, including DNA sequencing and imaging, with new technology they will invent and develop. The team will be led by Professor Greg Hannon, from the Cancer Research UK Cambridge Institute, who has likened the project to a mission to put a man on Mars.
The scientists aim to gather thousands of bits of information about every single cell in a tumour and use it to construct a 3D version that can be studied using virtual reality. This will allow everybody from scientists to patients to students to understand cancer in a new way.
By developing an entirely new way to study breast cancer, this team hope to change how the disease is diagnosed, treated and managed. Ultimately, it could improve how women with breast and other types of cancer are classified, which would improve their treatment and help more people survive the disease.
Within the Institute of Astronomy, Dr Nicholas Walton will lead a team at the IoA's Cambridge Astronomical Survey Unit (CASU), that will be responsible for developing the advanced image analysis techniques to segment, align and initially characterise the cells and structures in the IMAXT raw image data.
Dr Walton said "At the Institute of Astronomy, we routinely analyse images from the world's largest telescopes. We use these to unravel the birth, life and death of planets, stars and galaxies. Now we'll be using these same analysis techniques, applied to images from sophisticated microscopes, to increase our understanding of the life and death of cells and tumours, working with our CRUK colleagues to solve their grandest challenge."
Cancer Research UK Grand Challenge:
IMAXT at Cancer Research UK Cambridge Institute:
Google map of team with photos and quotes:
Local IoA Contacts:
Nicholas Walton:  Tel: 01223 337503
Mike Irwin (CASU Director):   Tel: 01223 764606
Page last updated: 13 February 2017 at 15:57