Scientists at the Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne have taken the ground-breaking move of utilising virtual reality technology to help treat patients displaying signs of phantom pain after injuries.
VR – Not Just For Gaming
VR has come to the fore over recent years with the improved technology allowing a more realistic and comfortable user experience. However, with a lot of the media focus on VR as a use for entertainment, the technology has also been harnessed by other sectors.
One of the more interesting sectors is medicine. Phantom pain is identified as the pain an individual experiences in an area where a limb or organ is no longer a part of the body due to amputation. Up to 80% of amputees suffer from this condition after losing a limb. A decision was taken by scientists to test a new form of therapy using VR to deal with the issue of phantom pain.
VR with a POV
In this particular instance, a team of scientists at the university, led by Olaf Blanke, lead author of the study and holder of the Foundation Bertarelli Chair in Cognitive Neuroprosthetics, gave patients suffering from phantom pain a pair of VR goggles. The goggles then displayed a live feed of a camera that was filming a pair of dummy legs.
The camera gives the patient a POV perspective of the legs. The scientists then simultaneously tapped the legs and the areas above the patient’s spinal lesions caused by the injuries they had suffered. This was done until the patient felt as if it was their own legs being tapped.
The patients have stated that the sensation felt during this process contributed towards reducing the neuropathic pain they were experiencing. The research carried out by the scientists was considered a huge success.
Blanke, said “We managed to provoke an illusion: the illusion that the subject’s legs were being lightly tapped, when in fact the subject was actually being tapped on the back, above the spinal cord lesion.”
He added “When we did this, the subjects also reported that their pain had diminished.”
Taking the Next Step
Building on from this research, there are now plans in place to develop a therapy system over the coming months that will look to help patients that are suffering from spinal injuries and other forms of chronic pain.
This latest example of VR being used to change the way we operate in the modern world shows how versatile the technology has become. VR is also being used by architects to improve building design, engineers to deal with logistical issues more effectively, and the gambling industry to offer a more realistic online casino experience.
Leading the Way
The research carried out at Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne using VR in the battle against phantom pain is another evolutionary step for the technology. It is also another example of the university leading the way with pioneering treatment.
As one of the two Swiss Federal Institutes of Technology, the university has been established since 1853. It now sees 10,536 students attend its courses with 3,971 academic staff working there. Students from over 125 different countries are in attendance at the university that has gained a reputation for breaking new ground within the area of medicine.