Researchers at King’s College London have developed a virtual reality system that aims to distract and calm patients who find MRI scans difficult, including children and other vulnerable people. The patient wears specialized VR headsets during the scan and can interact with the system just by moving their eyes, allowing them to play games or select various options, including watching videos or interacting with a caregiver or companion via a link. video. The technology is designed to make scans more enjoyable for patients and to reduce the likelihood that a scan will not succeed because a patient moves or asks to leave the scanner.
Reduced space, loud noises, and the need to stay still for extended periods of time can make MRI scans a grueling experience for many. Some patients find it particularly intolerable, which can interfere with the ability of technicians to perform scans successfully.
Some estimates indicate that the success of MRI scans in children under five is 50%, which means that scans should be repeated using sedatives or even anesthesia to ensure that patients can complete them. . This is risky, uncomfortable and frustrating for patients and technicians. This latest technology aims to make patients forget that they are on a scanner by transporting them to another place, through virtual reality.
“We were really looking forward to finding other ways to allow children and vulnerable people to have an MRI,” said Dr. Kun Qian, a researcher involved in the study. “Our interest in virtual reality arose from the simple observation that when someone uses and immerses themselves in a virtual reality environment, they are completely unaware of their environment. We thought that if we could make a system compatible with the virtual reality environment. MRI could be a very powerful alternative way to successfully scan these challenging populations. ”
The researchers designed VR headsets that are compatible with MRI and completely block the entry of any peripheral light, helping the user to forget their surroundings. The system also cleverly disguises the noise and vibration coming from the scanner making them pass as incidents in the virtual world, such as the noise and vibration of construction work.
To date, the system contains a wide variety of multimedia content and games with which users interact through eye movements, and even allows the user to interact with a partner outside the scanner via a video link and a microphone. .
“Developing the right content is crucial, because for the system to be effective it must keep a subject / patient’s attention and sense of immersion as long as possible,” Qian said. “Because this content is likely to be very different depending on age and cognitive abilities, doing it well and adapting it to different clinical and study populations is the next key step.”
“We are very excited about the possibilities that this system opens up for vulnerable and important populations such as children and those with difficulties that could mean that they cannot normally have an MRI without sleep,” added Dr. Tomoki Arichi, another researcher involved in the study. “This can not only make a huge difference to daily clinical practice, but it also paves the way for us to gain a dramatic new insight into how patterns of brain function, behavior, and social skills develop through our lives.” .
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Study a Scientific reports: A virtual reality system based on eye tracking for use in magnetic resonance imaging systems