JUN 27, 2019 12:52 PM PDT

Using VR to Design Medicine

WRITTEN BY: Julia Travers

Being able to visualize and precisely understand molecular shapes is a key factor in drug design. Over the years, to envision and better understand molecules, chemists have gone from 2D renderings to “ball and stick” physical models, to chemical software and, now, to virtual reality (VR). The high-tech drug discovery company C4X Discovery is enabling scientists to use the same VR technology in the popular game “Fortnite” through a tool called 4Sight, CNN reports.

By using VR in 4Sight, biochemists can virtually touch and move molecules and can see how they respond to various stimuli. They are using this method to take on the challenge of creating new drugs for respiratory conditions, cancer, neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson's and dementia, and more. The process has already been used to make a drug now in development for addiction treatment.

"Moving molecules around that are very complicated is so much easier by grabbing them than by trying to use a mouse on a keyboard," Craig Fox, chief scientific officer at C4X Discovery, said.

Person using VR, public domain

C4X Discovery hired a video game developer name Phil Muwanga to lead their coding team for this project and develop a culture of gamification. He said the behaviors scientists carry out within the program are similar to those of traditional video gamers.

“[We] have a user base, we're trying to get them to do tasks over and over again. And we're trying to do it in a fun and intuitive fashion."

Molecule model (not from 4Sight, public domain)

With 4Sight, multiple scientists can even work on the same molecular puzzle in a shared virtual room. The company and users hope this tech will cut down on the cost and time of drug development. This process can take 10 to 12 years and cost billions, by the time a new medicine gains market approval.

VR is also being used elsewhere in medicine for training, surgery practice and pain reduction.

To get a feel for the kind of experience C4X Discovery offers scientists, check out the video below.

Source: CNN, C4X Discovery

About the Author
Bachelor's (BA/BS/Other)
Julia Travers is a writer, artist and teacher. She frequently covers science, tech, conservation and the arts. She enjoys solutions journalism. Find more of her work at jtravers.journoportfolio.com.
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