Games in Healthcare

Health and Medical Games News Roundup: 11-02-2009

A Prostate Cancel CellThere has been a lot of news relating to health and medical technology and games in recent weeks. From video games for medical research and disease management to health education games, here is a summary of some of the stories which have caught our attention.

A new study by the University of Florida is looking to determine whether exergaming can have a positive impact on osteoarthritis. The disease is the most common form of arthritis, caused when joint cartilage wears down. Knee and hip joints are the most frequently affected by the disease. The research focuses on women between the ages of 50 and 70. Read More...

We hope to learn from this study the impact of pain on physical activity and if participants who enjoy the exercise will report less pain," said Bridgett Rahim-Williams, lead researcher of the project. "If women find a physical activity that is fun, perhaps they'll do it even in the face of pain. (…) And when people are more physically active, their health outcomes improve."

A website entitled Generation Cures is taking an active role in promoting healthcare research. Built as an online community, the website offers games for children to play. Every time someone reaches a new game level, sponsors will make a donation to the Children’s Hospital Boston, helping to fund some of its important research.

Game technology is also being used directly for medical research by physicists and engineers at Ohio State University. They created a device which could help examine tumour cells, using magnetic fields to separate cancerous cells from healthy tissue. In order to manipulate these cells, the researchers use a video game joystick to switch the magnetic field on command.

"You can look at each cell rather than averaging it out," said physics professor Ratnasingham Sooryakumar, main researcher on the project. "When you actually have 10,000 of them to analyze the data, you can understand stat distributions that we normally would not have gotten in ensemble measurements, and that's a huge thing."

Researchers at the University of Chile and Harvard Medical School have been developing audio-based PC games which allow visually impaired and blind children to develop spatial, cognitive and social skills. The study focuses on three games which let players navigate a labyrinth, a subway system and real-world buildings based on audio cues. While the games can’t yet replace traditional rehabilitative techniques the team hopes this research will provide complementary means of helping the blind.

"(We've) concentrated on developing the gaming software as a rehabilitation tool to allow blind users to survey unfamiliar buildings before actually navigating through them in real life, as well as conducting brain imaging studies to uncover how the brain of a blind individual accomplishes this task," said Dr. Lotfi B. Merabet, of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Harvard Medical School.

There have been a couple of games focusing on HIV/AIDS released in the past year, but another new project is currently under way. Dr. Lynn Fiellin, assistant professor of medicine at Yale School of Medicine, has received a five-year, $3.9 million research grant from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development to support her study.

She is working to develop and test an interactive virtual reality video game called Retro-Warriors that will teach adolescents of various ethnicities how to make healthier choices. The research plans to create a world in which users can engage in role-playing to learn to avoid risky behaviours—such as unprotected sex, as well as drug and alcohol abuse—that could lead to HIV.

“The game could travel with the player—it could be used at home, on a console, a cell phone or a personal digital assistant,” said Fiellin. “Access to the Internet is growing in developing countries and these technologies could be transferred to adolescents in countries experiencing a growing HIV epidemic but which have limited access to targeted risk-reduction strategies.”