Health: 'Virtual tumour' model may find new cancer treatment

Women should know the breast cancer risk factors

Breast cancer
Breast cancer Pixabay

British researchers have developed a novel virtual reality (VR) 3D model of cancer that will increase the understanding of cancer and help the search process to find a new treatment.

As reported by BBC, the scientists from Cancer Research UK (CRUK) took a tumour sample, one millimetre cubed piece of breast cancer tissue from a patient for the biopsy that contained almost 100,000 cells.

First, the research team cut the sample into wafer thin slices and then scanned them. Later, they marked the slices to show the molecular make-up and DNA characteristics. Then the scientists rebuilt a tumour using VR and examined it in a VR laboratory.

Greg Hannon, Director of CRUK's Cambridge Institute, 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."

In addition, the Karen Vousden, CRUK's chief scientist stated, "Understanding how cancer cells interact with each other and with healthy tissues 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."

While analysing the tumour, the researchers became avatars inside the virtual laboratory and the cancer was represented by a multi-coloured mass of bubbles. Even though the human tissue size was almost the size of a pinhead, inside the laboratory it could be magnified to appear several metres across. However, the VR system allowed the scientists to 'fly through' the cells for the detailed study of a tumour.

While focusing to a group of tumour cells which escaped from the breast milk ducts, Hannon said that maybe this is the point when cancer affects surrounding tissue "and became really dangerous. Examining the tumour in 3D allows us to capture this moment."

Recent reports on a new study on pregnancy and breast cancer risk said that older mothers are at higher risk of breast cancer.

Later, the researchers from the Institute of Cancer Research (ICR) questioned the findings and stated their own study. As per the website, one of the researchers who worked on the study at the ICR, Dr Minouk Schoemaker explained the matter and said, "Our large international study has provided further evidence that pregnancy increases women's risk of breast cancer at first – although the overall rates in the younger age groups that we looked at was still low."

He also added that "The protective effect of pregnancy on breast cancer risk becomes apparent later on, with women having a lower risk of developing the disease from around 24 years after childbirth, depending on their age at first birth and the number of births."

The risk factors for breast cancer:

  • Breast cancer risk goes up as you get older.
  • Women with close relatives who've been diagnosed with breast cancer have a higher risk of developing the disease and as researchers found 5 percent to 10 percent of breast cancers are thought to be hereditary
  • Radiation to chest or face before the age of 30 increase the risk
  • Overweight and obese women have a higher risk of developing the disease
  • Women who started menstruating younger than age 12 have a higher risk of breast cancer later in life
  • Hormone Replacement Therapy can cause breast cancer
  • Excessive alcohol consumption and smoking is linked to a higher risk of breast cancer in younger, premenopausal women