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The Virtual Reality Microscope Project

The Virtual Reality Microscope for Diagnostic Pathology

We have been funded by the National Institute of Health Research (NIHR) to undertake a three year project to develop and evaluate a virtual reality (VR) microscope, which will transform the usage of digital slides in the delivery of patient care and in medical education.

The project will run from July 2009 to November 2012, but we plan to commercialise the technology to make it available to a wider audience.

Please contact us if you are interested


Histopathology is the medical specialty concerned with diagnosing disease by examining tissue. Histopathologists use microscopes to examine glass slides containing pieces of tissue, for example to diagnose breast or colon cancer.

Now pathology is undergoing a digital revolution - so called "virtual slides" are enormous digital images produced by scanning glass slides at very high resolution (200,000 dots per inch). The resulting images are gigapixels in size - far larger than images taken by even the best digital cameras.

Digital pathology promises significant benefits in the delivery of patient care. For example:

  • Previous slides can easily be accessed when they are needed, rather than having to be retrieved from the archive
  • In a fully digital workflow with manual patient identification steps removed, the risk of getting slides mixed up so that a patient receives the wrong diagnosis (something that happens rarely but can have devastating consequences when it does) is significantly reduced
  • Out of hours services and specialist second opinion services can be created, enabling patients to receive an expert decision more quickly

However, despite these potential benefits, currently such systems are rarely used outside of research and teaching. Using existing systems, it can take up to 60% longer to perform diagnoses using digital slides than on the light microscope. This is because digital slides are incredibly detailed (the images are often so large that they would be the size of a squash court if printed onto paper) but most manufacturers provide only standard desktop PC based software to view them.

The Leeds Virtual Microscope Version 2 The Leeds Virtual Microscope Version 2


Our project is developing a VR microscope that allows diagnoses to be made quicker, but as accurately as, a conventional microscope, an essential step in making digital pathology suitable for routine use. We are achieving this by combining 'giga-pixel' displays with VR technology and 'intelligent navigation' techniques. We are developing both a single-user workstation for clinical work and a multi-user 'Powerwall' for teaching. You can see prototypes of these systems in the video below.

Leeds Virtual Microscope - Version 2

Our latest virtual microscope is shown in the video above and image below. The result of 3 years systematic research into diagnosis, the system uses medical grade monitors and custom designed software to allow pathologists to review entire cases efficiently.

The video above shows the Leeds virtual microscope being used to report a case of colorectal cancer. The pathologist starts by selecting one of the tumour slides to examine, then systematically assesses all of the other slides. The system:

  • allows rapid movement between slides
  • provides an overview of large areas of tissue, on one slide or more than one slide
  • makes all of the images and information necessary for diagnosis available on screen at a glance

The image below shows a case being reviewed with the system. The main image is viewed on the left, with a 6 megapixel medical grade monitor. The right screen shows the slide overview and an overview of the case.

The Leeds Virtual Microscope Version 2

Dr Darren Treanor using the Virtual Microscope software to analyse digital slides

The research team

The project is a cross-disciplinary collaboration between experts in pathology, human-computer interaction and computer graphics. The team members work in the Leeds Institute of Molecular Medicine and the School of Computing (both University of Leeds), and at St. James's University Hospital (Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust).


Randell, R., Ruddle, R. A., Thomas, R. G., Mello-Thomas, C., Treanor, D. (2014) Diagnosis of major cancer resection specimens with virtual slides: Impact of a novel digital pathology workstation. Human Pathology In press. DOI: 10.1016/j.humpath.2014.06.017

Randell, R., Ambepitiya, T., Mello-Thomas, C., Ruddle, R. A., Brettle, D., Thomas, R. G., Treanor, D. (2014) Effect of Display Resolution on Time to Diagnosis with Virtual Pathology Slides in a Systematic Search Task. Journal of Digital Imaging DOI: 10.1007/s10278-014-9726-8 August 2014.

Randell, R., Ruddle, R. A., Mello-Thoms, C., Thomas, R. G., Quirke, P. and Treanor, D. (2013) Virtual reality microscope versus conventional microscope regarding time to diagnosis: an experimental study. Histopathology, 62: 351-358. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2559.2012.04323.x

Randell, R., Hutchins, G., Sandars, J., Ambepitiya, T., Treanor, D., Thomas R. G., Ruddle, R.A. (2012) Using a high-resolution wall-sized virtual microscope to teach undergraduate medical students. CHI 2012, May 5-10, 2012, Austin, TX, USA

Randell, R., Ruddle, R.A., Quirke, P., Thomas R. G., Treanor, D.(2012) Working at the microscope: analysis of the activities involved in diagnostic pathology. Histopathology. 2012 Feb;60(3):504-10. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2559.2011.04090.x. Epub 2011 Dec 16.

Randell, R., Ruddle, R. A., Thomas, R. G., Treanor, D. (2011) Diagnosis at the microscope: A workplace study of histopathology. Cognition Technology & Work, 1-17. DOI: 10.1007/s10111-011-0182-7