Researchers discovered that by showing interactive content on VR headset, users can get a whole new experience while MRI scans.
Many people find MRI scans uncomfortable due to cognitive difficulties or they suffer from anxiety or claustrophobia. Children also find MRI scans challenging, and MRI scans fail in up to 50 percent of children under 5 years of age. Therefore, hospitals rely on sedative medication or even anesthesia to get children successfully scanned.
Researchers from King’s College London have created an interactive VR system that can be used by patients when undertaking an MRI. Lead researcher Dr. Kun Qian from the School of Biomedical Engineering & Imaging Sciences at King’s College London said, “We were keen to find other ways of enabling children and vulnerable people to have an MRI scan.”
“Our interest in VR specifically came from the simple observation that when someone is using and then immersed in a VR environment, they are entirely unaware of their surroundings. We thought if we could make a system compatible with the MRI environment, it could be a very powerful alternative way to successfully scan these challenging populations.”
The VR headset is designed to be light tight, so the user cannot see their surrounding environment at all and is unaware of visual reminders of their position. This approach is highly effective as their visual scene is completely replaced with the VR environment and through creating congruence with the other sensations that are perceived during MRI examinations such as scanner noise, table movement and table vibration.
The researchers say the next steps for the system is to develop content and test it with patients.
“Developing the right content is crucial, as for the system to be effective it needs to maintain a subject/patient’s attention and their sense of immersion for as long as possible. As this content is likely to be very different depending on age and cognitive capabilities, getting this right and tailoring it for different clinical and study populations is a key next step,” Dr. Qian said.
Co-author Dr. Tomoki Arichi said: “We are very excited about the possibilities that this system opens up for vulnerable and important populations like children and those with difficulties which might mean they can’t normally have a MRI scan without being put to sleep. Not only could this make an enormous difference for everyday clinical practice, but it also opens the way for us to gain dramatic new insight into how patterns of brain function, behavior, and social skills develop across our lives.”
The study has been published in the journal Scientific Reports.