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.
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