New virtual reality software allows scientists to ‘walk’ inside cells

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IMAGE: DBScan analysis being performed a mature neuron in a typical vLUME workspace.
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Credit: Alexandre Kitching

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

Cambridge researchers create VR software that allows scientists to ‘walk’ inside cells

A collaborative project between 3D image analysis software company Lume VR Ltd. and scientists at the University of Cambridge showed off a new virtual reality tool today that gives scientists a new view of the inner workings of human cells.

The researchers hope the Google Street View-style tool will provide an up close and personal way to understand fundamental problems in biology to help new treatments for disease. The details are published in the scientific journal “Nature Methods.”

By using VR, scientists can “walk” through the “byways” and “highways” within the cells themselves and see proteins fold and unfold. They also can potentially see where things go wrong when they go wrong and even rewind biological processes by looking through recorded and visualized datasets.

The software, vLUME, uses super-high-resolution microscopy data that is collected, collated and digested. After that, the data needs to be rendered in a manner understandable by humans, and that’s where the immersive nature of virtual reality comes in.

By donning a VR headset, researchers can then dive into the internal structures of a human cell and look at the structure of a cell wall, a Golgi apparatus (the part of a cell involved in intracellular transport), the warps and waves of a mitochondria (the provisioner of energy) or the folds of an individual protein that could be malformed. They can even pull back to view the roadmap of an entire cell.

“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 team from Lume specialized originally in

How much Novartis pays employees, from scientists to global directors

  • The Swiss pharmaceutical giant Novartis is a leader in the drug industry, commanding a market value of $200 billion and employing more than 100,000 people around the globe.
  • Business Insider’s analysis shows that Novartis hires employees in the US at salaries ranging from around $50,000 to mid-six-figures.
  • Our analysis includes salaries for positions from scientists to global directors, The roles we analyzed include: science, data, solutions, engineering, leadership, and more. 
  • The results come from a US Department of Labor database of base salaries for permanent and temporary foreign workers.
  • While a limited sample, the data brings some level of salary transparency to the competitive and secretive drug industry. 
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

With a market value of $200 billion and more than 100,000 employees, Novartis is one of the largest drugmakers in the world.

Since taking over in 2018, CEO Vas Narasimhan has led the Swiss pharma giant to focus on bolder scientific bets, such as acquiring the gene therapy company AveXis for $8.7 billion and inking a five-year deal with Microsoft to use artificial intelligence in drug development.

While headquartered in Basel, Switzerland, Novartis has a presence around the world, particularly in the US. Its flagship research labs are located in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and the pharma company also has a sizable presence in East Hanover, New Jersey.

Salary transparency is hard to come by in the competitive and secretive drug industry. But Business Insider gleaned a partial look inside compensation at Novartis through a database showing how much companies intend to pay foreign workers who apply for visas to work in the US.

Companies must disclose how much they intend to pay foreign workers who apply for visas to work in the US. From more than 6,000 visa applications found in the US Office of Foreign

New gadget lets scientists ‘plant ideas’ in people’s dreams as they sleep

People were prompted to dream about trees... and they did (Getty)
People were prompted to dream about trees… and they did (Getty)

It sounds like something out of science fiction films such as Inception, but a new gadget has allowed MIT scientists to plant ideas in people’s dreams. 

Researchers used an app combined with a sleep tracking device to “plant” ideas in people’s minds as they slept. 

The monitor waits for people to enter a suggestible stage of sleep, then the app plays a message telling them to think about trees.

Two-thirds of volunteers who heard the prompt, went on to dream about trees. 

Read more: Bizarre dreams caused by lockdown

The researchers describe the technique as “targeted dream incubation”, LiveScience reported. 

The research relies on the sleep-tracking device (called Dormio) detecting an early sleep stage known as “hypnagogia”.

Hypnagogia (the earliest sleep stage) is similar to the REM stage, but people can still hear audio during hypnagogia while they dream. 

Lead researcher Haar Horowitz said, “This state of mind is trippy, loose, flexible, and divergent.

“It’s like turning the notch up high on mind-wandering and making it immersive – being pushed and pulled with new sensations like your body floating and falling, with your thoughts quickly snapping in and out of control.”

Read more: In death, a crow’s big brain fires up memory

The researchers write, “targeted information is repeatedly presented during the hypnagogic period, enabling direct incorporation of this information into dream content, a process we call targeted dream incubation (TDI).”

The researchers conducted dream experiments by repeatedly waking up sleepers as they napped during the day. 

The volunteers recorded audio prompts in the app, such as, “Remember to think of a tree.”

The Dormio monitored the volunteers heart rate and electrical changes in the skin to monitor when they entered “hypnagogia”.

Read more: Melting snow in Himalayas drives