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Virtual tumour cancer model created

Thursday 3rd January 2019
A new 3D model of cancer cells has been created by scientists in Cambridge.
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Scientists in Cambridge have developed a new 3D virtual reality model of cancer, opening the door to new ways of screening, assessing and treating the disease. 

The 3D model was based on a tumour sample taken from a patient and the benefit of this approach is that it maps every cell and the cancer can be viewed from all angles. 
Researchers believe this could help improve the understanding of the disease and support new ways of treating it. 

It was created by Cancer Research UK Cambridge Institute (CRUK) as part of its Grand Challenge Awards.

Speaking to the BBC, CRUK director Professor Greg Hannon said: "No-one has examined the geography of a tumour in this level of detail before; it is a new way of looking at cancer."

The model was created by taking a 1mm cubed piece of breast cancer tissue, which was then cut into slices, each of which was stained with markers indicating their molecular structure and DNA. 

It is then 'rebuilt' using virtual reality, giving it the 3D visual structure. Although small in size, it still contains 100,000 cells.  

Created as part of an international research scheme, the model can then be seen by scientists all over the world. 

CRUK's chief scientist Prof Karen Vousden, who runs a lab at the Crick Institute in London, commented: "Understanding how cancer cells interact with each other and with healthy tissue is critical if we are going to develop new therapies - looking at tumours using this new system is so much more dynamic than the static 2D versions we are used to."

The screening method is the latest in a number being developed by researchers, which may also include a new DNA-based method of cervical cancer screening.

However, CRUK has urged caution over such developments, noting that in the case of the cervical cancer test, based on epigenic change, it is too soon to say if it will be 100 per cent reliable.

The new 3D model, however, could be different, as it deals with the structures of existing cancers, not whether cancer is present to begin with.

Written by Martin Lambert

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