This is an amazing revelation from cancer research scientists in Cambridge. They have developed virtual reality (VR) technology that enables them to have a 3D view of a tumour. This can be examined and shared in astonishing detail.

As reported by the BBC, Cancer Research UK’s chief scientist Professor Karen Vousden said: “Understanding how cancer cells interact with each other and with healthy tissue is critical if we are going to develop new therapies – looking at tumours using this new system is so much more dynamic than the static 2D versions we are used to.”

How does VR technology work?

A microscopic tumour sample can be taken from a real patient and studied at greater depth than ever before. A 1mm cube of breast cancer tissue has approximately 100,000 cells. This sample is then dissected into fine slithers. After it is scanned, the researchers add staining to highlight the DNA and molecular composition. The technological developments enable scientists to rebuild the tumour within a virtual reality setting. Any VR lab anywhere in the world can now access this tumour for analysis.

Cancer researchers can blow up this minute sample and see it from every angle. Within the technology, the cancer is represented by bubbles and the scientists are avatars that can fly around the magnified tumour.

What is the significance of this development in cancer research technology?

Director of Cancer Research UK Cambridge Institute (CRUK), Professor Greg Hannon demonstrated the technology to Fergus Walsh, a BBC reporter. Professor Hannon summarises the significance of this development: “No-one has examined the geography of a tumour in this level of detail before; it is a new way of looking at cancer.”

The real tumour they were looking at was in a breast milk duct and the image showed the cancer bubbles flying off from the main point. Professor Hannon explained: “Here you can see some tumour cells which have escaped from the duct. This may be the point at which the cancer spread to surrounding tissue (and became really dangerous) examining the tumour in 3D allows us to capture this moment.”

As CRUK Cambridge Institute say in the introduction to their explanatory video: “It aims to analyse every cell in the tumour, how they interact and thus increase our knowledge of how and why tumours grow and spread.” This work can be considered of absolutely crucial significance in our fight against cancer.


Obviously, this type of work ticks all of the R&D tax relief boxes for “scientific or technological advance” and if your business is involved in any similar work, make sure you claim this future investment to help your next research and development project.


Jamie Smith