kindVR is developing virtual reality therapies for pain management. Image: kindVR.

kindVR: Next-gen pain therapy

on September 11, 2016

In a video released by UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital Oakland last week, a 14-year-old sickle cell anemia patient named Briana pokes dolphins and whales from her hospital bed. Briana is part of an ongoing study using the latest effort by a growing Oakland-based virtual reality company.

“We have an amazing collection of studies in the past two decades showing how VR can help in a variety of ways,” says founder Simon Robertson.

His company, kindVR, was established in 2015 and focuses on developing customized 360-degree virtual reality therapies aimed at pain and stress mitigation. The user is placed in an interactive, immersive, computer-generated environment. “The point of that is to give your brain something to chew on,” he says. “Increasing your cognitive load…is an important part of pain mitigation.”

Robertson comes from a gaming background. He graduated from Cogswell College in Silicon Valley and worked as a game developer for eight years before trying on his first virtual reality headset almost three years ago. It was an “ah ha” moment, he said.

He began experimenting with meditation apps, and became interested in therapeutic applications when he discovered the work of Hunter Hoffman and David Peterson in treating burn patients at the University of Washington.

Despite the positive outcomes of VR therapy research studies like that of Hoffman and Peterson, implementation in medical settings has been slow. So Robertson started volunteering at UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital Oakland, where he met Dr. Ann Marsh.

Marsh is the principal investigator in the ongoing pilot study. And while the final results of the study are not yet available, Marsh says in the video that “universally, the kids love it.”

Prototypes like the one designed by kindVR are custom-built with the specific condition in mind, and used as a complementary treatment method. That’s important, because pain management is a big challenge in medicine.

According to an online fact sheet provided by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, “pain is cited as the most common reason Americans access the health care system.”

Patients with chronic diseases like sickle cell anemia need long-term management of their condition. Pain medications often come with adverse side effects, from nausea and vomiting to possible liver damage in high doses.

In the video released by the hospital, Briana brims with hope when she talks about her VR therapy. “It brings me back to my real main focus, which is trying to get me better, trying to get me back home,” she says.

Photo by Basil D Soufi
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