The multitudinous facets that cancer treatment consists of have been acquainted with an advanced imaging technique; one that is set to collate each interstitial facet, such that their own occurrence will revolve around the interpretation and diagnosis of the imaging process.

This imaging technique is virtual reality- where specialist computers develop 3D images of cancerous cells and their metastases; allowing histopathologists to analyse and ascertain the most suitable course of treatment. Its pioneers- scientists at Cambridge’s Cancer Research Department- believe it will succeed forerunning imaging techniques in the treatment of cancer.[1] This is because VR imaging’s 3D nature allows for very accurate and precise planes of display (for analysis) to be procured from any divergence from the tumour and surrounding cancerous cells (unlike most MRIs- which yield less accuracy, albeit also being multi-planar, and unlike most sonograms, CT scans and X-ray scans- which are both less accurate and uni-planar).

The spherical VR render was constructed in a procedure where a 1mm cubed piece of cancerous tissue biopsy was extracted from a breast cancer patient (consisting of about 100000 cells). This tissue biopsy would then be dissected into wafer thin slices, stained with select marker contrasts to highlight the DNA in all phases of the cell cycle. A computer then scans the samples from various angle perspectives to render a virtual program with the aforementioned cells represented and differentiated using a display key.

The render will allow analysis of the prevalence of the cancer in bodily tissues, and would allow for “pre-emptive” forecasting of further metastases; allowing a for a more suitable and efficient course of care, as patients can be transferred from diagnosis to their respective treatment courses faster. From an NHS trust perspective, if implemented at every hospital, this would ameliorate the aggregate efficacy of the NHS in cancer care, as more people can be treated more quickly (allowing for no limiting factors in the provision of care).

In radiotherapy treatments, there is a potential for VR imaging to make the emission paths of active elements to be more localised and controlled; as the imaging renders would ensure that as many cancerous cells were in the emission path, and as few healthy cells were caught indiscriminately.

Although the premise of this imaging is very promising, it is in its infancy, and has a major pitfall of only being applicable to tissue biopsies, and therefore is not entirely representative or comprehensive of the cancer as a whole- which would almost certainly be larger than the biopsy sample. This evidently reduces its utility in the direct treatment of cancers, as they only portray a small section of the entirety that is the tumour (and surrounding metastases).[2]

There is great hope nonetheless, as the requisite foundations to build up from now exists, and even small biopsy analyses will aid cancer research to find links between cancers and their respective causes, and how this relates to their unique metastatic behaviours.

The war against cancer may continue to rage on in the meantime, but research is bringing new weapons (metaphorically) to the battlefield, and today, it is the birth of VR histopathology- an imaging technique that doctors and researchers hope will make cancer diagnosis more efficient and efficacious.

Hamzah Rahman

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