‘MS from the Inside Out’ Uses Virtual Reality to Share What Life for Patients Is Like

‘MS from the Inside Out’ Uses Virtual Reality to Share What Life for Patients Is Like

Virtual reality (VR) technology is most commonly associated with gaming and entertainment, but it’s expanding into a variety of clinical and healthcare applications. The Ontario-based biopharmaceutical firm EMD Serono, Canada, is now using VR as an informational and educational tool to provide a more profound understanding of what living with multiple sclerosis (MS) is really like.

VR uses combinations of head-mounted goggle screens, audio and sound effects, and haptic sensations to create virtual —or imaginary — environments where a user can explore, even moving around within, to interact with simulated effects.

EMD Serono’s 10-minute VR program, called “MS from the Inside Out,” immerses those who use the head-mounted VR goggles in an interactive, virtual and sensory-rich space that allows them to briefly experience what people with MS go through on a day-to-day basis.

Users should come away with a better understanding of the disease and its complex symptoms, which can include extreme fatigue, diminished coordination, muscle weakness, tingling, impaired sensation, vision problems, bladder issues, cognitive impairment, and mood changes.

“The effects of MS can be physical and emotional, and because its symptoms are often invisible, the experiences of those suffering from MS can be difficult for caregivers, family and friends to understand,” said Daniel Selchen, director of the MS Clinic at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto. “Knowing that, raising awareness of MS is critical, and gaining insight into the journey a person living with MS faces allows us to further understand this complex disease.”

Such an understanding is especially important in Canada, both for researchers and for the public at large. According to the MS Society of Canada, the country has one of the highest rates of MS in the world, with an estimated 1 in every 340 people in Canada living with MS.

“This is a big first step for technology integration in the MS space and we’re excited about the possibilities it may provide the 100,000 Canadians currently living with the disease,” Gaby Murphy, president and managing director of EMD Serono, Canada, said in a press release. “EMD Serono, Canada is committed to furthering education about MS for both people with the disease and their loved ones. This ground-breaking technology has potential to help increase our understanding of MS and further raise awareness of the impact of the disease.”

On May 31, World MS Day, EMD Serono held an event at the MaRS Discovery District in Toronto where attendees were given the opportunity to experience its VR program. The company has posted a video of the “MS from the Inside Out” journeys that several took, with information about this program, on YouTube for viewing.

3 comments

  1. Jean Stell says:

    I have difficulty understanding how the use of virtual reality will aid others in understanding what we M.S. Sufferers are going through since so few symptoms are visible to others. Our suffering is predominently muscular and cognitive. The one exception is balance difficulties. That aspect of the disease is often visible, yet the perception of this problem is still difficult to quantify by visual perception. Another cannot see the pain involved nor the frustration that those suffering with this disease endure. If one wants to experience MS, I suggest attaching electrodes to your body that will interfere with physical sensations and muscular control that are both painful and disorienting. Even that would not give an outsider the understanding of the daily effects of this disease. I guess having several drinks along with using the muscle interference of electrodes would give one a better idea of what suffering with Multiple Sclerisis is really like, but those electrodes would have to interfere with physical movement and the pain we feel in our muscles over a 24 hour period. Now multiply that times 365 times 20 or 40 years. Then you might have some idea. Maybe you would understand why sleeping is often preferable to living in wakefulness with this frustrating and painful disease. I can still walk, sort of, if you count dragging a useless leg around with me. Eating with utensils much as a two year old would use them. Having to sit over a plate and scooping the food from a few inches away to your mouth. Worrying whether a glass of beverage is now to heavy to lift or if it will end up in your lap or spilled all over the table and someone else will have to clean up because that task would just be too difficult and take too long for the MS sufferer. Seeing the room spinning around you. Falling backwards because your feet won’t go where you want them to go while one tries to move across the floor. Feeling disoriented all the time. That’s just part of what it’s like, now add cramping muscles and pain and stiffness in your hands, arms, and legs. Doing simple things like brushing your teeth, combing your hair, putting your pants on become something you have to mentally prepare for and force yourself to do because you know these simple tasks will now take ten times longer and leave you exhausted and unprepared to do more for the day. So once you know these things about your disease you can’t help but wonder, “why do I bother since I know I won’t have the strength to the things I got dressed for, brushed my teeth for, combed my hair for; forget styling your hair, that is something which is now a distant memory. What is the point? We are human, alive, with desires and dreams; we have families we love and wish to interact with, so we persever. This is just the part of MS others will see if they want to see. Most do not wish to observe and understand the frustration and futility we experience when we attempt these once simple tasks. Why? It is too frightening because by the simple twist of fate it could be any of you, and may be still in your futures. This is a fate I would wish on no one, but with the rise of the diagnosis of new MS patients everyday, it is the probability for many of you. Why? I suspect we are years away from understanding what causes this vicious disease and so many other autoimmune diseases this world is encountering these days. It is an enigma.

  2. Cat says:

    I was diagnosed at the age of 18, just 6 weeks after graduating high school. I had BIG plans, college! I was going to make a big difference in the world. My first exacerbation was at age 14! Yes, I went undiagnosed for 4 yrs. Then I woke up and couldn’t walk. Mom and Dad took me to the Dr. and he admitted me for 7 days. My symptoms subsided for then.
    Symptoms came and went. Now, it seems they stick around a bit longer and then I get used to it and get on with life.
    I’ve been married. I’ve gone thru a divorce. I’ve been blind and regained my sight 2 times
    Life goes on, if you let it people!
    The day of my spinal tap, I made a decision.
    IF I HAD MS, IT WASN’T GOING TO HAVE ME!
    I have since met a wonderful man that worries more than he should. We have moved away from my hometown. And I am happier than I ever thought possible! But I am a believer of making the best out of any situation. I focus on ONLY POSITIVE THINGS!
    Try it today…say to yourself, only good things will happen to me today because GOD IS GOOD AND HE’S ON MY SIDE!
    Have a great day and God bless!

  3. James Waldie says:

    My sister has MS. She became very excited and interested when I told her this experience existed. She has trouble communicating what MS is and how it affects her. Please make this available to download for people with thier own VR kits at home. Family and friends would like to try this and understand her illness better.

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