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VR could soon take on cancer treatments

Halfway through 2017 virtual reality is still primarily associated with gaming and entertainment. This is only natural, as most of the leading headsets have been specifically designed with an eye toward enhancing game consoles to bring more immersive video games. It’s also tempting to look toward the most fun application of any new technology. And if anything, the gaming side of the VR market has further expanded over the past year or so.

For one thing, we’ve started to see the emergence of VR arcades, which is something not everyone necessarily saw coming a year or so ago when we were just getting used to devices like the Gear VR, HTC Vive and Oculus Rift. In many ways we think of these headsets as the next generation of home consoles. But the use of VR technology in an arcade environment allows for more comprehensive immersion given that the range of movement can be enhanced. In some cases, games can be designed to feel as realistic as they look.

We’ve also seen the expansion into areas of gaming that weren’t necessarily at the forefront of VR in the beginning. Some of them have the potential to drastically alter the industry. VR is being referred to as the next frontier in casino gaming, which may be the most significant development in this regard. This is a type of gaming that has millions of fans all over the world, and they’re usually looking for new ways to enjoy games that feel more realistic. In a way, this is our first glimpse of VR roping in a sort of fringe gaming industry and expanding its own capacity to entertain.

But even as virtual reality continues to develop and evolve where its most prominent purpose is concerned, it’s also being proven useful in plenty of areas aside from entertainment. Some of the most meaningful and significant uses for VR are happening in healthcare. For the most part, this has meant that VR programs are allowing students and medical professionals to educate themselves and conduct training exercises in virtual environments simulating human bodies and disease conditions. As the technology improves and people become open to using it for more serious purposes, we’re also starting to see applications in actual treatment.

One such application that recently came to light is the use of VR to inspect the tumors of cancer patients more closely. It was actually developed by a college student at the University of North Florida, and while it’s only just emerging it could have significant implications in cancer treatments and other similar challenges faced by medical professionals. iIt’s a ways away from being put into practical use on a large scale, but it’s still a very promising development.

The student’s name is Jason Smith, and he’s calling his project VRvisu. He created it using an HTC Vive and MRI machines, and is basically trying to enlarge exact replicas of patients’ tumors. This won’t necessarily be helpful in all instances of diagnosis or treatment, but it’s undoubtedly preferable to observing maladies purely through MRIs and physical analysis. If a doctor can step into a virtual environment to look closely at a tumor, and can also reference notes within the program, the process of figuring out just what’s going on and how it might be treated should be simplified. Additionally, the applications of a program like this in student research and trial runs could also be extraordinarily beneficial.

We’re still very early in the unveiling and emergence of VRvisu, but it’s surely another promising development in VR. The primary focus of most people looking through VR headlines is still usually gaming. But if you pay close attention you might notice a growing number of stories like the one about VRvisu. It’s beginning to feel like this technology is going to have a significant impact in a number of medical fields.

We even wrote not too long ago about the potential of virtual reality to allow doctors to teleport into a heart. In much the same way that VR can magnify an exact replica of a patient’s tumor, it can also turn the heart into something large enough to be physically explored, in a virtual environment of course. This carries a range of implications for research, disease studies and treatment.

But VRvisu is one of the more exciting things we’ve heard about in the VR arena with specific regard to cancer treatment. It’s definitely something worth keeping an eye on in the future, and we look forward to learning about the next medical breakthrough with virtual reality.