In 2016, an interactive virtual reality cell environment, the first of its kind, was generated at the 3D Visualisation Aesthetics Lab. The prototype uses the latest room-scale virtual reality technology and high-resolution electron microscopy data to allow researchers to observe the processes by which nanoparticles carrying cancer drugs are internalised and trafficked within a cancer cell. It is anticipated that this work will shift the paradigm of education while accelerating the science discovery process by offering researchers novel perspectives on drug delivery.
Funded by the ARC Centre of Excellence in Convergent Bio-Nano Science & Technology (CBNS), this prototype has demonstrated how virtual reality headsets can be used to interact with cell image data in an immersive way to provide invaluable insight for scientific discovery and education.
The module, which is adapted for use with the HTC Vive VR platform, is designed as a standalone package with in-built training features to guide the user through the virtual landscapes and use of the interactive hand-held controllers. Using the single high-resolution data set generated from Prof. Rob Parton’s group (UQ), two cell environments were re-created – the surface of the cell (termed Cell Paddock) and the cell interior (Cell Cathedral). The Cell Paddock allows the user to explore the surface of the cancer cell to observe the intricate mechanisms involved in nanoparticle internalisation – caveolin-mediated endocytosis, receptor-mediated endocytosis and macropinocytosis. The user is then transported within the cell to gain insight into the complex and interconnected structures that facilitate drug entry and processing. In each environment, the user can learn about each component through interactive information pop-up panels and rich audio cues.
Assessment of the learning outcomes of immersive media education compared with traditional screen based methods is currently being undertaken in a cohort of undergraduate students as part of the research project objectives.
Journey to the Centre of the Cell – educational animation
As part of the project funded by the ARC Centre of Excellence in in Convergent Bio-Nano Science and Technology, the 3D Visualisation Aesthetics Lab has developed an educational video highlighting current advances in nanoparticle technology for cancer therapy.
Based on ground-breaking research being undertaken by scientific collaborators at the Monash Institute of Pharmaceutical Science (MIPS) and the University of Queensland (UQ), the computer-generated animation describes the stages of novel nanoparticle drug delivery to cancer cells isolated in the laboratory. Using the same high-end digital animation software that Hollywood production heavyweights and special effects artist rely on, the sequence incorporates accurate high-resolution microscopy data of a breast cancer cell and structural data from the Protein Data Bank to enhance scientific authenticity.
The team, with unique combinations of multimedia and scientific research backgrounds, employed principles of art and design in storytelling such as colour, composition and tone to engage the viewer throughout the scientific narrative. Working with sound engineers, the group was intent on taking the viewer on a visually-stunning, thought-provoking journey to the centre of the cancer cell to observe how the latest nanotechnology is contributing to the fight against cancer.
More information about the project can be found here: ARC Centre of Excellence in Convergent Bio-Nano Science & Technology (CBNS)
Prof Tom Davis, Monash University
Dr Angus Johnston, Monash University
Prof Robert Parton, University of Queensland
Prof Maria Kavallaris, University of New South Wales