When “Alice” – that little girl – felt bored from the length of her sitting next to her sister, she ran after a rabbit that she saw just entering a hole in front of her, and then she was surprised by a world full of wonders, secrets and adventures, but it seemed that a more exciting journey could have been waiting for her if she decided to enter The human cell and exploring its depths.
This is no longer a fantasy yet. In a recent study conducted by scientists at the University of Cambridge, the results of which were published in Nature Methods on October 12, it is now possible to wander inside the biggest mystery – the cell. Mankind – to reveal its hidden secrets.
Faces of challenges
Ultra-high-resolution microscopy – whose discoverers won the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 2014 – allows images to be obtained with a resolution up to the nanometer level, using smart physical tricks to circumvent some of the physical phenomena that restrict the ultra-high-resolution imaging process, such as the phenomenon of “diffraction of light”. Researchers are observing the molecular processes taking place in cells at the time of their actual occurrence.
In spite of this, there remained a persistent problem represented in the difficulty of processing and analyzing these results in a three-dimensional manner, which prompted Cambridge University researchers to create a program based on virtual reality technology – called “in Lum” (vLUME) – which allows researchers to walk Within individual cells and their analysis, to understand fundamental problems in biology and to develop new disease treatments.
Dr. Stephen Lee – the lead of this study in the Department of Chemistry at the University of Cambridge – said in the press release published by the university that “biological processes take place inside our bodies in their three-dimensional image, but so far we are facing difficulty in dealing with this data on a two-dimensional computer screen.”
“It was not the case after we started analyzing the data we obtained using virtual reality, as everything looked in its correct place,” he adds.
Industrial academic cooperation
This program was designed in cooperation with Lume VR Ltd., a company that specializes in designing 3D image analysis software. While Lee’s team, with its expertise in the field of high-resolution microscopy, worked on data collection, the Lume team was busy with operations. Spatial computing and analysis of that data.
The collaboration resulted in the creation of a new tool that enabled scientists to explore complex data sets, as this program allows for the analysis of high-resolution microscopy data using virtual reality, enabling us to finally track almost everything from the individual proteins within the cell to the exploration and analysis of the entire cell.
Alexander Kicheng, CEO of Lum, says that this program “has become a revolution in the field of imaging, by being able to place humans under the nanoscale lens.”
He added that “the use of the virtual reality methodology enabled scientists to imagine biological systems and formulate questions about what is collected from three-dimensional biological data, during the real time in which these biological processes occur.”
“High-resolution microscopy produces very complex data, as it takes very long time for scientists to analyze that data, so the program” in Loom “will enable us to reduce the time required to analyze that data, and then get answers to biological questions faster,” he said.
Displaying the data in this hypothetical way will inspire researchers with new ideas and encourage innovative initiatives.
For example, Anushka Handa, a PhD student in Lee’s research group, used the software to walk around inside an immune cell taken from her blood, and then stood inside her cell using virtual reality.
“It’s unbelievable,” said Handa. “This program gives you a new perspective on your work.”
Lee’s team is currently using this software to track a number of biological data from neurons, immune cells, and cancer cells.
Virtual reality technology enabled them to quickly dismiss a hypothesis – which pertains to their work – and then suggest new hypotheses, without losing more time and effort in exploring hypotheses that might be wrong.