Cookies on this website
We use cookies to ensure that we give you the best experience on our website. If you click 'Continue' we'll assume that you are happy to receive all cookies and you won't see this message again. Click 'Find out more' for information on how to change your cookie settings.

Computational Biologist Stephen Taylor and his team were awarded an Innovation grant to develop a software package that allows researchers to use virtual reality for scientific research and public engagement.

© Martin Phelps

Virtual Reality (VR) is a fantastic tool to interact with complex 3 D objects and data, and an excellent way to showcase research in an intuitive way. Yet the lack of computational ‘know how’ is a barrier for biomedical scientists interested in exploring the technology. Stephen Taylor, from the MRC WIMM Centre for Computational Biology, developed a software called BabelVR which aims to overcome this obstacle. BabelVR allows 3D images from a variety of devices (such as CT scanners, microscopes, etc) to be viewed and interacted with in a VR environment. The prototype is already being used at the MRC WIMM by researchers working in 3D microscopy and craniosynostosis. However, in its current form it still requires considerable support from Steve to use it.

In his submission to the University of Oxford IT Innovation Challenge 2018, Stephen proposed developing the prototype into a fully featured software package that would make it easier to transform data and images into a robust, interactive, and customisable VR experience by any interested researcher. The £50,000 grant will also allow the inclusion of additional features that can maximise the way researchers understand and interact with their data, including new ways to annotate, measure, share and animate 3D structures in VR. In addition, Stephen’s team will also work with Oxford Digital Education to help put together a course with the aim of teaching other groups how to deploy and use VR services.

Stephen TaylorStephen said "This research will allow us to understand how VR can most effectively be deployed in a variety of medical situations, from manipulation and annotation of complex images using CT and MRI, to actually doing pre op simulations before operations."

The software will be useful not only to advance and innovate scientific research, but also to engage with the public.  Previously, MRC WIMM and Goldsmith’s researchers have developed a set of public engagement activities and VR experience around the concept of DNA folding, a complex process to explain in words but which becomes intuitively understood when observed in 3D. The ‘DNA origami’ stand made its debut at the Royal Society Summer Exhibition in 2017, and has since been engaging with the public at Cheltenham Science Festival and the Curiosity Carnival, as well as school and Institute visits. Its power to inspire a new generation of scientists, and break a more ‘traditional’ view of what biomedical research entails, is very clear, with a recent visitor commenting ‘I hadn’t realised that virtual reality is so closely linked to biology’

The IT innovation Challenge, part of the University’s IT Capital Plan, aims to fund innovative projects which will enhance the staff or student experience at Oxford through digital means.The 2018 scheme was the Intelligent Campus, and encouraged the exploration of emerging technologies, from AI to VR.

Similar stories

New study maps the development of the human intestine

MRC HIU RDM

Researchers in the Simmons lab chart the embryonic origins and appearance of diverse intestinal cellular compartments, with important implications for intestinal diseases.

MRC HIU appoints new Director

MRC HIU RDM

We are pleased to announce that Professor Alison Simmons has been appointed as the new Director of the MRC Human Immunology Unit.

Study uncovers how low blood iron diminishes immune response

MRC HIU NDM RDM

The Drakesmith group finds that low blood serum iron levels can inhibit T-cell and B-cell immune responses to vaccines and infections.

Study finds new human blood disorder

MRC MHU RDM

The Patel Group have discovered a new human disease caused by formaldehyde accumulation in cells

Role-playing computer game helps players understand how vaccines work on a global scale

Centre for Computational Biology MRC HIU RDM

A free game launched today allows players to role-play the deployment of a virtual vaccine to help to halt the global spread of a viral pandemic.