Oncology researchers are now able to interact with cancer cells in an innovative way.

In a video recently released by Fairfax media, UNSW researcher, Dr John McGhee demonstrates how gaming technology, and the use of a virtual reality headset, has allowed researchers to “walk around the surface of [a cancer] cell,” in order to observe, through virtual interaction, the way medicines penetrate the cell membranes.

Together with his research team, Director of the 3D Visualisation Aesthetics Lab at UNSW, Dr John McGhee, developed a virtual reality program that allows the user of a virtual reality headset, to “walk” on the surface of a breast cancer cell.

Dr McGhee and his team utilised data from a high-resolution scan of a breast cancer cell to develop the program.

During the video, Dr McGhee stands on a cancer cell, very close to where a nanoparticle is set to penetrate the cell membrane. The viewer then observes absorption of the nanoparticle into a cavioli on the cancer cell.

Apart from just walking on the surface of a cancer cell, the research team has harnessed gaming technology to create doorways that appear on the surface of the cell, allowing the wearer to enter the cell and observe its internal structure.

Addressing the advent of the cancer-exploring technology to Fairfax media, Dr McGhee explained the program is also designed to aid the development of cancer treatments.

“As well as the obvious educational role this can play, it has the potential to allow cancer researchers to see their data in a new way, which can help them design better nanotherapies,” Dr McGhee said.

Fellow researcher, Dr Angus Johnston from Monash University, Melbourne, explained the new technology creates a space within which experts can identify molecules up-close, and better understand the scale of the cancer cell, in order to develop more effective treatments.

“Visualising the scale of this process will help design the drugs of the future,” said Dr Johnston.