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Funding to explore how virtual reality can help injured children through painful rehabilitation

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Researchers from Sheffield Hallam University have received a grant to help them lead on revolutionary work looking into how virtual reality (VR) can help injured children through painful rehabilitation.

The Medical Research Council (MRC) awarded funding to a Sheffield consortium made up of University of Sheffield, Sheffield Children’s NHS Foundation Trust, Sheffield Hallam University and Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust.

This funding is designed to “accelerate the transition from discovery research in any healthcare area into translational development projects by supporting preliminary work or feasibility studies to establish the viability of an approach”.

It forms part of the MRC’s strategic aims to turn fundamental discoveries into improvements in human health and economic benefit.

From this funding, a Sheffield Hallam University team has received a grant of just over £50,000 to carry out the project, which is a partnership between Hallam, the University of Sheffield and Sheffield Children's NHS Foundation Trust.

The team, led by Ivan Phelan from Hallam University, also comprises Professor Paul Dimitri, director of research and innovation at Sheffield Children's Hospital NHS Trust and Professor Penny Curtis, professor of child and family health and wellbeing, at the University of Sheffield.

Children who have injuries to their upper limbs and hands often have to undergo complex repetitive therapy exercises that may be painful to help them regain functionality.

This project, currently dubbed 'VR Rehab PlayRoom',aims to develop interactive VR scenarios which will require the children to perform the required exercises for them to progress through a game.

It is hoped that the patients will be so engrossed in the VR game that they become unaware of the pain associated with the exercises.

Ivan Phelan, research associate game developer in Hallam's Cultural Communication and Computing Research Institute (C3RI), said: "Depending on certain injuries, it can be necessary for children to have to perform exercises to help them recuperate - which can sometimes be painful. It can also be very difficult to motivate some children to perform these vital exercises.

VR kit at Sheffield Hallam

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"Using VR, patients would perform the exercises recommended by their therapist, and would receive in-game rewards to progress to the next level at the correct pace - either over time, by movement or both.

"The system would monitor how they cope with the exercises and progress made.  Repeated sessions would enhance the prospect of good or complete recovery with optimal restoration of function.

"The developed system could be made available for patients to use at home, by them using existing computers or games consoles and VR headsets. Different scenarios would be made that would appeal to children's different motivations to engage."

Professor Paul Dimitri, Director of Research and Innovation at the Sheffield Children's NHS Foundation Trust, said: "Children will be really excited about the prospect of using VR to play, and we think it will yield real clinical benefits in terms of their rehabilitation. This is obviously the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the potential VR has to contribute to innovation in children’s healthcare, from training to treatment.”

The project started this summer with patient trials likely to begin in April 2018.

For press information: Tim Ward in the Sheffield Hallam University press office on 0114 225 2811 or email