Research team lands “best pitch” at Stanford’s VR Brainstorm Lab

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Dr. Faranak Farzan, Dr. Sylvain Moreno and Dr. Diane Gromala, who are studying how Virtual Reality (VR) can help people recover from addiction, were presented the judges’ grand prize at Stanford University’s Brainstorm VR/AR Innovation Lab October 6-7, 2017.

The SFU Research team have combined their expertise across the disciplines of engineering, neuroscience, wearable technology, and health technology innovations to address the issue of addiction recovery.

They were among six teams invited to pitch at the Shark-Tank-like event after being shortlisted from more than 30 entries. They were awarded the grand prize, as voted by judges from diverse backgrounds encompassing medicine, business and technology innovation.

Stanford, recently named for the third year the world’s most innovative university (by United Press International), held the competition as part of its annual Innovations in Psychiatry and Behavioral Health conference, on the theme of Virtual Reality and Behavior Change. The event focused on how virtual and augmented reality technologies are transforming lives, and this year focused on possibilities in mental health care.

Dr. Sylvain Moreno, Dr. Faranak Farzan and Dr. Diane Gromala

copyright 2017, SFU Pain Studies lab; Photo credit: Kathryn Cruz

Competitors at Brainstorm VR/AR Innovation Lab, part of the Innovations in Psychiatry and Behavioral Health: Virtual Reality and Behavior Change conference at Stanford University.

Dr. Diane Gromala, Dr. Faranak Farzan & Dr. Sylvain Moreno won the Judge’s Grand Prize @ Stanford’s Innovation Lab

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Dr. Diane Gromala, Dr. Faranak Farzan and Dr. Sylvain Moreno won the Judge’s Grand Prize at Stanford’s Innovation Lab @ the Innovations in Psychiatry and Behavioral Health: Virtual Reality (VR) and Behavior Change Conference. Faculty members at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia, the Canadian team is exploring VR for addiction recovery in a very specific way, drawing on their combined expertise in neurotechnologies, brain science & VR.

You may read about it more in detail here:

Dr. Diane Gromala, Canada Research Chair in Computational Technologies for Transforming Pain and pioneer in VR for Chronic Pain.

Dr. Faranak Farzan, Chair in Technology Innovations for Youth Addiction Recovery and Mental Health and pioneer in Neuromodulation Technologies.

Dr. Sylvain Moreno, Head of Innovation of Neurodevnet, a Canada-wide research network and National Centre of Excellence (NCE), and Director of SFU’s Digital Health Hub.

Undergraduate Researcher Kathryn Cruz pitches at Fraser Health Research Day

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Kathryn Cruz was named 1 of 15 finalists selected to present at the Fraser Health – Simon Fraser University’s collaborative 3rd Annual Research Day. This event aimed at building new research collaborations between Fraser Health and Simon Fraser University. It fosters relationships between decisions makers, practitioners, and front-line staff with academic researchers.

Kathryn presented research titled “Virtual Reality as a Diagnostic Tool to Assess Probability of Relapse in Addiction Patients,” led by supervisors Dr. Faranak Farzan (Mechatronics) and Dr. Diane Gromala (Pain Studies Lab).

“Research like this really aims at maintaining a clinician-patient relationship about their treatment,” Kathryn states, “but simultaneously builds self-efficacy needed for patients to build resilience during their addiction rehabilitation.”

The event was held at Simon Fraser University in Surrey on November 3, 2017. Kathryn was mentored by Fraser Health decision makers and practitioners to help supplement and provide support to move the study forward.

Photograph: Kathryn Cruz at the Fraser Health – Simon Fraser University’s collaborative 3rd Annual Research Day on November 3, 2017.

Partnering to help people with addiction recovery

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The Pain Studies Lab will be partnering with Dr. Faranak Farzan and the John Volken Academy to design a virtual reality program to help people with addiction recovery. This program will be developed to assess participants’ progress in overcoming addiction.

The John Volken Academy is an addiction treatment program for young people ages 18-35 and is located in Surrey, BC. After patients leave the two-year residential program, they are often confronted with environments that could trigger addictive behavior or relapse.

An immersive VR system could be used in two ways:

• First, bio- and neuro-sensors connected to the VR system could transform the VR system into an assessment tool that helps doctors determine if patients are prone to relapse, and could help identify triggers that may lead to relapse.

• Second, the VR system could function as part of a treatment (intervention) plan that arms patients with experiences that help prepare them to confront such triggers in an immersive and realistic simulation. In both cases, the VR will help researchers better understand aspects of the brain works in a participants’ vulnerable state.

It would make sense to have some sort of intervention or assessment to see how they are doing, and if we can expose them to an old scenario that would have made them vulnerable to using before, how will they react?

Dr. Faranak Farzan

We know that VR is an exceptional tool for treating many kinds of psychological disorders, from phobias to PTSD. Recent advances in neuroscience means we can create even more effective VR systems that may help with our current opioid crisis.

Dr. Diane Gromala

Study Team:

  • Dr. Faranak Farzan
  • Dr. Diane Gromala
  • Dr. Sylvain Moreno


  • Dr. Gregory J. Christie
  • Serkan Pekcetin


  • Kathryn Cruz
  • Sungmin Park

  • Simon Fraser University, School of Mechatronics System Engineering
  • Simon Fraser University, School of Interactive Arts & Technology
  • John Volken Academy

Dimple Gupta contributes to new Pain BC Program

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Dimple Gupta joined Simon Fraser University’s School of Interactive Arts and Technology as a graduate student in Summer 2014. Dimple is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (in California, United States) and a Registered Social Worker (in British Columbia, Canada), specializing in mental health social services program design and delivery, psychotherapy and health communications. She holds a Masters degree in Social Work from San Jose State University and and brings over 10 years of experience with direct patient care, program implementation, development, compliance, and public relations experience with Silicon Valley health services agencies and the government sector in India. Her research interests include technology in organizational development, human computer interaction, and developing computational technology based treatment interventions to treat chronic pain and mental health world-wide.

Mahsoo Salimi joined Simon Fraser University’s School of Interactive Arts and Technology as a graduate student in Fall 2014. Mahsoo is an architect and holds a Masters degree in Architecture from University of Colorado. She has worked at Terreform ONE under the supervision of Dr. Mitchel Joachim and Maria Aiolova and she was also a visiting scholar at Prof. Nikolaus Correll Lab at the University of Colorado (Computer Science Department). Her current research interests include Responsive and Interactive Interfaces in Architecture, Biomimetics, Human Computer Interaction, Immersion and Tangible Media, Robotics, Smart Materials and Synthetic Biology.

SFUs Digital Health Hub

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Through SFUs partnerships with Fraser Health and other health organizations, the SFUs Digital Health Hub solves real health problems with digital solutions. The group is headed by Maryam Sadeghi, the CEO of MetaOptima Technology Inc. She completed her PhD at SFU in Computing Science and earned numerous awards for her work. She developed an application for helping detect skin cancer.

Innovation Boulevard

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Innovation Boulevard is a new network of health related entities that strives to improve health care. Their vision lies primarily in improving four areas of health care:

  1. Improving health care outcomes for patients.
  2. Implementing intelligent solutions for the health care system.
  3. Attracting talented clinicians and researchers.
  4. Growing companies in health care technology and services sectors.

Innovation Boulevard is located in between SFU Surrey and Surrey Memorial Hospital, a perfect union of theory and practice.

See more at:

Diane Gromala made GRAND Director of Health Research

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GRAND is a research network and commercialization engine whose goal is to address complex issues in digital media and transform multidisciplinary research into user-centred solutions. GRAND explores the use and application of digital media in a variety of settings including entertainment, healthcare, education, environmental sustainability, and public policy.

GRAND is a federally-funded Network of Centres of Excellence supporting 34 research projects divided into 5 cross-pollinating themes involving researchers at 25 universities across Canada with more than 60 industry, government, and nonprofit partners.

Pain Lab researchers to be part of ISEA STEMArts curriculum

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Tyler Fox and Carlos Castellanos have been invited to be in the ISEA STEMArts curriculum, featuring DPrime Research (the artist-organization to which they belong) and their two alternative computing projects, Biolesce (exploring bioluminescent algae as a display in physical computing) and Biopoeisis (a chemically-based analog computer that explores concepts of conditioning, networks and emergent phenomena). STEMArts curriculum attempts to dissolve boundaries by using art as a way to explore and learn about science, engineering, technology and math.

DPrime Research specializes in cultural production informed by the intersection of technology, research and the arts. Our approach is exemplified by the enhancement of collaboration, dialogue and knowledge sharing between local communities, academic research and cultural institutions, with the goal of showcasing alternatives to dominant social and technological models.

Proof-of-Process exhibit/workshop

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Pain Lab researchers Tyler Fox and Carlos Castellanos, along with former lab researcher Steven Barnes and SIAT student Diego Maranan, will be presenting an exhibit and workshop at Gallery Gachet in Vancouver called Proof-of-Process.

The exhibit takes place June 5-10 at the gallery, which is located in Gastown, 88 East Cordova Street.

Proof-of-Process consists of a series of a hybrid exhibitions, workshops and symposia where participants, along with artists-researchers, can interact with and collaborate on, the development of science and technology-based artworks and research projects in various stages of development all within a publicly accessible laboratory and production workshop set-up in the gallery space. We seek to engender an atmosphere of critical engagement and experimentation where the experience of the work unfolds through its direct manipulation. Visitors are invited not only to view and interact with projects, they are also encouraged to directly manipulate components and actively change the configuration of systems. Unplug, rewire, and experiment.

For more information or to register visit the project website at