Industry outreach supports breast cancer patients

Industry engagement by Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington academics has helped put together a VR experience that could help patients with advanced breast cancer.

Woman wearing VR headset in front of sky with clouds

Raqi Syed from the University’s Miramar Creative Centre and School of Design Innovation and Dr Miriam Ross from the School of English, Theatre, Film, Media Studies, and Art History have used their expertise to help with several virtual reality (VR) projects. These include VR headsets to help women in labour (led by PhD student Lorna Massov), a VR experience to educate children about kauri dieback (led by Dr Monica Gerth) and another that captures that wetlands of Ngati Kahungunu (led by Dr Mairead de Roiste).

They have also provided their expertise to Wellington’s Mixt Studio who, with the support of Breast Cancer Foundation NZ, have created a VR experience to help patients with advanced breast cancer manage their pain.

This experience, called Ripple, is designed to ease the physical and emotional side-effects of incurable cancer. Patients can use the technology to view and interact with New Zealand beach, river and mountain scenes, aiming for durable alleviation of anxiety, fatigue, depression, and pain.

The idea to use VR in this way came out of a Breast Cancer Foundation survey where patients with advanced breast cancer said their inability to manage their symptoms was their number one issue. Several research studies conducted in the United States have also suggested that VR can help with managing chronic pain.

Raqi and Dr Ross were involved in this project from the early stages. They provided insight into how the VR experience might work to support cancer patients, as well as what VR industry practice and technology would be most helpful in this situation, and also helped design the scope of the project to best suit the needs of all stakeholders. They also provided the equipment used while shooting video for the VR experience.

Meredith Myer-Nichols, who mentors at Miramar Creative Centre and is an advisor at the University’s Computational Media Innovation Centre, also produced the VR experience.

“This is an exciting field to work in,” says Dr Ross. “This project is an example of the type of work that pushes VR’s potential and allows for really multi-disciplinary connections.”

“It’s also a good example of how social-impact-driven research and storytelling have become integral to VR projects,” says Raqi. “As academics and creatives, it’s great to work on projects that have the capacity to make a real difference in people’s experience of the world.”