University of Utah Researchers Create Game to Help Cancer Patients

September 27, 2011 -

Researchers at the University of Utah have developed a motion-controlled game that helps children with cancer cope with their illness by promoting good mental health and physical fitness. The game, which was developed by chemistry professor Grzegorz Bulaj, is called PE Interactive (PE stands for "patient empowerment").

Bulaj says the inspiration came from watching an eight-year-old boy (who had been diagnosed with a brain tumor) using an incentive spirometer to blow a ball upward as far as he could. The medical device helps with lung strength and is one way doctors help patients avoid debilitating illnesses such as pneumonia.

Bulaj contacted hematologist-oncologist Carol Bruggers, who works in pediatric oncology at Primary Children’s Medical Center, and began kicking around the idea of a game. "After talking to Carol,” Bulaj said, "the idea was defined like this: We activate the circuits in the brain that connect the part responsible for keeping us highly motivated to the part that contains motor activity.” Through associating physical activity with motivational stimuli, Bulaj says, “a new circuit of positive impulses would then be developed that would make patients feel stronger as they fight an illness. Possibly more important, they’ll have fun doing it."

The next step was to conduct some research on the concept of "patient empowerment," or the idea that a patient feels they can change something even what it seems impossible. She uncovered statistics in which stroke patients made significant progress in physical therapy focused on patient empowerment techniques.

"Patients who are more empowered are presumably more likely to be willing to fight their disease and maintain their treatment for a longer period of time," Bruggers explains.

She notes that hope is a major factor in treating cancer patients. Her hope is that her project helps to stave off the sense of hopelessness that many cancer patients feel.

"You know, this project was very exciting for me because I have a chance to be part of making something useful and fun for kids that will potentially help a lot of people," adds Bruggers.

Bruggers then went on to find out about EAE, a nationally ranked program jointly owned by the Department of Film and Media Arts and the School of Computing, that teaches students how to make video games at the University of Utah.

"EAE is designed to challenge students and present them with real-world opportunities. This project fit the bill perfectly," says Roger Altizer who is one of the key developers of the PE Interactive Video Game.

Altizer is the director of game design and production for the EAE program. Altizer and other EAE faculty Robert Kessler and Craig Caldwell, gathered a team of five graduate students to develop the game. The graduate students – Laura Warner, Kurt Coppersmith, Brandon Davies, Wade Paterson and Jordan Wilcken – worked over the summer to create a five-level multiplayer game featuring original music, characters, and a story the offers inspiration and empowerment to its users. The game is also portable so it can be used in a hospital room.

In one part of the game, players use Move controllers to spread mortar and stack bricks together. The wall is meant to represent a patient working with their team of caregivers to build their immune system up as they fight their cancer. Bruggers plans to observe how patients and families interact with the game and collect data on patients’ progress.

Source: Desert News


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