CellSight: Mapping cancer invasion

Associate Professor Edwin Hawkins has developed technology that can map the spread of cancer in real time.
The CellSight project enables researchers to track the behaviour of cancer cells as they interact with their environment. Providing up to 14 hours of real time activity in 3D, researchers can zoom in and out, and view entire organs and view real time data in more than 10 different positions.  

3-dimensional render of an entire organ using CellSight technology 

Shown above is a flythrough of living tissue of an entire bone.

The green region shows the healthy bone making cells. The blue indicates a vast network of vessels supplying the tissue with blood and oxygen. The red dots are the individual deadly cancer cells.

By constructing a map of the organ from thousands of small images, we can visualise the tissue as a whole organ. However, we still maintain the power to see individual cancer cells, which are a few micrometres (approximately 1000 times smaller than a millimetre) inside the tissue. 


Seeing the spread of cancer over time

Shown above are two maps of the same bone marrow over one week.

The image on the left shows the bone marrow when only a few small areas of cancer cells (shown in red) have infiltrated the healthy tissue (shown in green and blue). The image on the right is a map of the exact same bone marrow one week later. The red shows the spread of cancer cells.

By mapping the behaviour of cancer cells over days and weeks, scientists will be able to zoom in on the exact moment when cancer starts causing extensive damage to the body.


Catching cancer cells ‘in the act’ of spreading 

On the left hand side, we map how the red cancer cells are spread in the healthy tissue, which is shown in green and blue. This provides valuable information about how these cancer cells move around, hide and divide in their local environment to make more cancer cells.

On the right, we have zoomed in on one small area of the red cancer cells from the map on the left. For the first time, we can catch these cells 'in the act' of spreading cancer throughout the body.

To demonstrate the scale of this technology, we can draw on the universal language of Google. The image on the left can be likened to the Google Earth view of the entire Melbourne sporting complex. The visibility of the cells on the right hand side above is equivalent to a bowler on the pitch of the MCG.

Aerial view of the MCG


Super Content: 
Associate Professor Edwin Hawkins with imaging equipment

Associate Professor Edwin Hawkins and his team have answered the longstanding question of how leukaemia survives chemotherapy, bringing the world closer to more effective blood cancer treatments.​