With $4.5 million grant, researchers look at video-game therapies

By Ian Dillingham, Daily Staff Reporter
Published November 20, 2013

At the intersection of video games and medicine lies a new University initiative to construct a center for the development of medical technology.

The U.S. Department of Education’s National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research recently awarded a $4.5 million, five year grant to a team of collaborative researchers from multiple disciplines and departments across the University. This grant will fund researching therapies for adolescents and young adults with physical, cognitive and neurodevelopmental disabilities.

Michelle Meade, an assistant professor in the Medical School’s Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, said the project — called Technology Increasing Knowledge, Technology Optimizing Choices — will likely spawn a new research center at the University, tentatively named the Center for Self Management and Rehabilitation Technology.

Such a center would aim to supply practical therapies to improve the lives of patients with debilitating physical impairments. Among other projects, this includes the development of rehabilitation video games intended to provide patients with support in their daily lives, Meade said.

“No matter what level of injury someone has, there is a capacity for that individual to have a happy, productive life,” Meade said. “How people do that often depends on their personality and the resources they have available.”

One resource that Meade and collaborators are developing is SCI-Hard, a computer game that engages the patient in simulations of common daily struggles they may face at home. By solving problems and developing strategies to win the game, patients simultaneously develop tools that help them in the outside world.

“That game is focused on teaching self-management skills — the attitude that people with spinal cord injury can and should be able to get out and manage their health and, once they’re able to do that, take on all the other challenges that life throws at them,” Meade said.

The grant is also funding the development of a “virtual coaching” application that will track the body movements of patients with limited mobility and provide them with feedback from a health professional. Meade said researchers hope the app can bridge the gap between the hospital and home environments.

“This acknowledges both the issues of the spinal cord injury and the priority of folks being out and doing things in real life, as well as the knowledge of the health-care provider,” Meade said.

Acquiring the funding and intellectual resources for the six projects outlined in TICTOK was an interdisciplinary effort, with contributions from the Medical School, the School of Information, the College of Engineering, the School of Public Health and the College of Pharmacy.

In light of recent cuts to federal support for research, Meade said the grant provided encouragement to everyone involved in the research.