Virtual reality software which allows researchers to ‘walk’ inside and analyse individual cells could be used to understand fundamental problems in biology and develop new treatments for disease.
The software, called vLUME, was created by scientists at the University of Cambridge and 3D image analysis software company Lume VR Ltd. It 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. Details are published in the journal Nature Methods.
Super-resolution microscopy, which was awarded the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 2014, makes it possible to obtain images at the nanoscale by using clever tricks of physics to get around the limits imposed by light diffraction. This has allowed researchers to observe molecular processes as they happen. However, a problem has been the lack of ways to visualise and analyse this data in three dimensions.
“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,” said Dr Steven F. Lee from Cambridge’s Department of Chemistry, who led the research. “It wasn’t until we started seeing our data in virtual reality that everything clicked into place.”
The vLUME project started when Lee and his group met with the Lume VR founders at a public engagement event at the Science Museum in London. While Lee’s group had expertise in super-resolution microscopy, the team from Lume specialised in spatial computing and data analysis, and together they were able to develop vLUME into a powerful new tool for exploring complex datasets in virtual reality.
“vLUME is revolutionary imaging software that brings humans into