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Research

Frontiers in Neurology publishes research results of VR work on Phantom Limb Pain

By | Research, Collaborations, Papers, Projects, Publications

“I Dreamed of My Hands and Arms Moving Again...”

Phantom limb pain (PLP) is a type of chronic pain that follows limb amputation, brachial plexus avulsion injury, or spinal cord injury. Treating it is a well-known challenge. Currently, virtual reality (VR) interventions are attracting increasing attention because they show promising analgesic effects. However, most previous studies of VR interventions were conducted with a limited number of patients in a single trial. Therefore, to investigate the effectiveness of VR interventions on patients’ phantom limb pain over time, PhD candidate Xin Tong and her supervisor Prof. Diane Gromala collaborated with Dr. Kunlin Wei from Peking University and Dr. Bifa Fan from the Chinese-Japan Friendship Hospital. They recruited five PLP patients who participated in multiple VR sessions over 6 weeks. In VR, patients “inhabited” a virtual body or avatar. Movements of their intact limbs were mirrored in their avatar, providing the illusion that their limbs responded as if both were intact and functional.
The researchers found that VR sessions repeated over time led to reduced pain — even in chronic pain that persisted for over 20 years — as well as improvements in anxiety, depression, and a sense of embodiment in the virtual body. Their findings also suggest that providing PLP patients with sensorimotor experiences involving the impaired limb in VR appears to offer long-term benefits for patients, and speculate that these benefits maybe related to changes in patients’ control of their phantom limb’s movement.
Future work to determine if such VR interventions may be detected in brain-imaging studies such as fMRI has been planned and recently funded.

Reference:

Tong, X., Wang, X., Cai, Y., Gromala, D., Fan, B., & Wei, K. (2020).
“I Dreamed of My Hands and Arms Moving Again”:
A Case Series Investigating the Effect of Immersive Virtual Reality on Phantom Limb Pain Alleviation”

Frontiers in Neurology, 11, 876.
https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fneur.2020.00876/full

Redefining Citizen Science: the Pain Studies Lab & the Arthritis Research Centre ‘In the Wild’

By | Study, Research, Collaborations

An innovative Citizen Science workshop led to a study ‘in the wild,’  an academic-industry initiative, and a province-wide initiative about ‘the burden of pain symptoms’ — a first.

Academic researchers—from the Arthritis Research Centre of Canada (ARC) and Simon Fraser University’s (SFU’s) Pain Studies Lab and BioV Lab—partnered with award-winning industry partner Tactica Interactive to develop a web portal for all citizens of British Columbia (BC). In November 2019, SFU researchers then subjected it to testing ‘in the wild’ of a result of a collaborative effort between ARC and SFU’s Pain Studies and BioV Labs that started with an innovative ‘design thinking’ workshop last April.

Objective: In the web portal, the research teams will ask all citizens of BC about how ‘the burden of pain symptoms’ might affect their lives, from their ability to sleep and function at work and in ‘ordinary, everyday life,’ to their quality of life.

(Photos courtesy: D.Gromala, 2019)

Bhairavi Warke and Ankit Gupta, PhD students and researchers from the Pain Studies & BioV Labs at the School of Interactive Arts & Technology (SIAT) at SFU led the mall study. Researchers: Sherry Wang, Gary Li, Pegah Kaiei, Celia Zhang, Dr. Diane Gromala & Dr. Chris Shaw.

After months of working closely with Tactica Interactive on designing the web portal, the research teams did what tech professionals are taught to do: to test it with some of the people it was designed for — citizens. Such testing is an ideal. However, in industry, ‘user testing’ can be difficult because of its cost or time it requires, or both.

University researchers usually manage to conduct such studies, but more often than not, they’re conducted in a laboratory because labs offer tightly controlled conditions. Studies done ‘in the wild’ — outside of research labs — aren’t as tightly controlled, but they can reach a larger cross section of future ‘users.’ Because the web portal is meant for all citizens of BC, the researchers insisted on testing the web portal in a mall in Surrey.

Results: The web portal’s usability, acceptability, appropriateness, legibility and readability were tested by people in the mall who were generous enough to spend time using the website and answering researchers’ questions. The results were transcribed, analyzed and communicated to the web portal’s designers and to the research teams.

Stay tuned: The web portal is now scheduled to launch in May 2020.