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Cancer immunotherapy virtual reality a New Zealand first

5 November 2015

A New Zealand-based company Genulin Interactive, turned to the Malaghan Institute to advise on their creation of a world-first virtual reality experience of cancer immunotherapy. TVNZ's reporter Briar Wells experienced it for herself.

The virtual reality experience utilises Oculus Rift to invite the viewer inside the body to see the effects of a therapeutic cancer vaccine which ‘teaches’ the sentinels of the immune system, Dendritic cells (DCs) that cancer is an enemy of the body.  Once the DCs are primed to recognise cancer, they in turn educate an army of another immune cell, the T cells, to hunt down cancer cells and kill them, while leaving healthy cells alone.

Dr Lisa Connor of the Malaghan Institute advised Kevin Sheehy and Chris Mather of Genulin Interactive on the science behind stimulating the body’s own immune cells to fight cancer cells.  Initially she provided microscopy images but as the project developed she advised on each sequence of the four minute experience including the look and the movement of each cell.

While the development of cancer vaccines is still in the research phase, virtual reality is a wonderful way to show, rather than tell people, how they work.  Most people know how a preventative vaccine works to stimulate the immune system to fight off a disease before it’s ever met it. Therapeutic vaccines are an immunotherapy approach which teaches the body how to fight off a disease it already has.

"The Oculus Rift technology platform (Oculus Rift) enables a new, immersive method of showing people how molecules or cells act inside our body," say Kevin Sheehy and Chris Mather, "We can put a person into the body to see things happening at any size, from cells forming to medicines working on receptors. It is likely to become part of how clinicians, patients and other people in the medical field communicate the effects of new treatments on the body. It is very exciting, and as Kiwis we are really excited to bring this to the world.”