A new Virtual reality system has been created that lets doctors take a Google Street View-style 'walk' through the cells inside the human body.
It is hoped that the technology will allow researchers to analyse individual cells and gain a deeper understanding of the fundamental problems in biology.
University of Cambridge scientists created the software, dubbed vLUM with 3D image analysis company Lume VR using super-resolution microscopy data.
The team say it was developed as a way to help researchers create new treatments for diseases by understanding how they spread through the body.
Using the software, scientists can visualise and analyse data in Virtual reality to study everything from individual proteins to entire cells.
Anoushka Handa (PhD) analysing her data in vLUM. The software allows users to 'walk through' cells in the human body using data captured via super-definition microscopy
DBScan analysis being performed a mature neuron in a typical vLUME workspace. Researchers can take their own '2D' data and visualise it in a 3D environment
Super-resolution microscopy, which was awarded the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 2014, makes it possible to obtain images at the nanoscale by using clever tricks of physics to get around the limits imposed by light diffraction.
This has allowed researchers to observe molecular processes as they happen.
However, a problem has been the lack of ways to visualise and analyse this data in three dimensions.
'Biology occurs in 3D, but up until now it has been difficult to interact with the data on a 2D computer screen in an intuitive and immersive way,' said Steven F. Lee.
'It wasn't until we started seeing our data in Virtual reality that everything clicked into place,' explained Lee, study lead author from Cambridge's Department of Chemistry.
The vLUME project started when Lee and his group met with the Lume VR founders at a public engagement event at the Science Museum in London.
While Lee's group had expertise in super-resolution microscopy, the team from Lume specialised in spatial computing and data analysis.
Together they were able to develop vLUME into a powerful new tool for exploring complex datasets in Virtual reality.
'vLUME is revolutionary imaging software that brings humans into the nanoscale,' said Alexandre Kitching, CEO of Lume.
'It allows scientists to visualise, question and interact with 3D biological data, in real time all within a Virtual reality environment, to find answers to biological questions faster. It's a new tool for new discoveries.'
Viewing data in this way can stimulate new