Fully funded team

Creating virtual reality maps of tumours

 A team of 14 investigators 

UK, Switzerland, USA, Canada and Republic of Ireland

 Biologists, mathematicians, bioinformaticians, astronomers, physicists, clinicians, chemists, neuroscientists

 £20M

 6 years

Building a tumour in virtual reality allows us to see information about the behaviour, location and characteristics of tumour cells all at the same time. This will help us understand more about tumours and begin to answer questions that have alluded cancer scientists for many years.

Professor Greg Hannon, Principal investigator

Their project

Greg Hannon Infographic
To fully understand cancer, scientists need to know everything about a tumour – what types of cells are in it, how many there are 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.

Professor Greg Hannon and his team of scientists, computer scientists and virtual reality experts from England, Canada, Switzerland and the US aim to change this.

Their Grand Challenge project aims 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 Research

Combining established techniques, including DNA sequencing and imaging, with new technology they will invent and develop, the team will study high-quality breast cancer samples available to them which were collected from women involved in the METABRIC study.

They aim to gather thousands of bits of information about every single cell in a tumour – from cancer cells to immune cells – to find out what cells are next to each other, how they interact with and influence each other, and how they all work together to help tumours survive and grow.

They will then take all the information they collect about the cells in a tumour and use it to construct a 3D version that can be studied using virtual reality.

Using virtual reality will allow scientists to immerse themselves in a tumour, meaning they can study patterns and other characteristics within it, in entirely new ways that aren’t possible in 2D. It will also allow multiple doctors and scientists to look at a tumour at the same time, meaning people at opposite ends of the country, and with different areas of expertise, can work together to help diagnose and treat patients better. 

The Impact

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.

Help set the next Grand Challenge

In 2015, seven Grand Challenges were set in consultation with patients, innovators and the scientific community.

Now we’d like your ideas to help guide our advisory panel in reviewing and refreshing the challenges.

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