Virtual Reality in A-T

Research Project information

Principal researcher: Professor Philip Breedon
Institute: Science and Technology Department, Nottingham University
Cost: £18,565 over 6 months
Start Date: 1st of July 2023

What are the researchers proposing to do?
Professor Breedon and his team are embarking on a research project to explore how Virtual Reality (VR) technology can benefit children and young adults with Ataxia-Telangiectasia (A-T). By creating a virtual world through VR, they can provide A-T patients with interactive games, exercises, and rehabilitation activities. This immersive experience not only keeps people mentally engaged but also helps slow down the decline of their physical abilities. VR systems are versatile and adaptable, allowing them to be easily incorporated into the patients’ daily lives. Parents can acquire the VR equipment for home use, or the systems can be set up in local clinics, making it convenient and accessible for patients in between visits to specialized centers.

The team believe that Virtual Reality (VR) technology can bring about significant improvements in the lives of children with Ataxia-Telangiectasia (A-T). Currently, these children face challenges in accessing specialized care due to limited availability of A-T centers in the UK. This creates complexity and high costs for patients and their families. To address this, they aim to utilize VR as an accessible and engaging solution.

Their research focuses on understanding how children and young adults with A-T engage with the VR system and how it can positively impact their gait, balance, and overall well-being. The team will aim to design a user-friendly VR platform that maximizes patient interaction and enjoyment. By providing a fun and entertaining way to engage in exercise routines, patients can be motivated to regularly perform their physiotherapy, improving their mobility and lung function. Additionally, during periods of illness or treatment, VR can serve as a means of communication and support, enhancing their quality of life and aiding in the recovery process.

How will the research be done?
The team will use a special virtual reality machine called the ‘Virtualizer’ to create fun and safe virtual scenarios for A-T patients and their parents or caregivers. The Virtualizer has a special platform that detects walking and provides support, so users can’t fall over. The patients will wear lightweight VR goggles to see the virtual world. As well as utilising the ‘Virtualizer’ the team will also explore a more affordable option using just the VR headset.

To conduct the research, the team will work closely with individuals with Ataxia-Telangiectasia (A-T) and their families to achieve the following outcomes:

  • Understanding Patient Needs: They will have conversations with A-T patients through online meetings to learn about their interests, expectations, and how they would like to interact with Virtual Reality (VR) technology.
  • Creating Engaging Experiences: Using VR equipment like the Cyberith Virtualizer ELITE 2 and VR headsets, they will collaborate with patients and their families to design immersive environments and activities that are safe, fun, and tailored to their needs.
  • Trying it Out: They will invite a small group of A-T patients to try the VR system. Their feedback and experiences will help us understand how well it works and how it can improve their well-being. We will also make sure to follow ethical guidelines to protect their safety.
  • Involving Patients and the Public: Throughout the research, they will keep patients, families, and stakeholders involved in meetings and discussions. Their input will guide us in making decisions and refining the VR system to better suit their needs.

How could it make a difference to the lives of those affected by A-T?
The VR system in this study could make a real difference in the lives of people with Ataxia-Telangiectasia (A-T) in the following ways:

  • Improved Physical Well-being: The VR system incorporates fun exercises that can slow down the physical decline in A-T patients, such as problems with walking and balance. By regularly using the system, individuals may experience better mobility and lung function, improving their overall well-being.
  • Enhanced Mental Well-being: The immersive and engaging VR environment can positively impact the mental health of A-T patients. It provides entertainment, reduces feelings of loneliness, and promotes a sense of empowerment and independence.
  • Accessible and Convenient Care: The VR system is portable and affordable, making it accessible to patients at home or local clinics. This means less traveling to specialized centers and more convenience for individuals with A-T and their families.
  • Increased Social Interaction: Using the VR system allows individuals with A-T to connect and interact with their loved ones in a meaningful way. It helps maintain their identity and fosters social connections, especially during times when physical interaction may be limited.

In summary, the VR system has the potential to improve physical and mental well-being, provide convenient care, and enhance social interactions for people with A-T, making a positive impact on their daily lives.