Category Archive: Other News

Oct 24

Prof. Gromala’s invited talk at VRPain2016: Reducing Pain and Suffering with Virtual Reality

Dr. Gromala, recognized as a pioneer of immersive virtual reality (VR) to manage chronic pain, participated in VRPain2016 in Los Angeles on September 19, 2016. This inaugural conference focussed on the unique convergence of VR and Pain, with a goal of charting a path to move VR forward into the realm of clinical care. Gromala was one of the 17 leading researchers who were invited to speak, and the sole researcher who has primarily focussed on chronic pain since 1991. Joining the researchers who established this emerging field were representatives from the research, clinical, regulatory, funding, and business sectors.

In her talk, “Chronic Pain & the Modulation of Self in VR,” Dr. Gromala outlined findings from her longstanding VR research. Since 1991, Gromala has been creating, building, testing and deploying immersive VR systems that are designed specifically to help chronic pain patients self-manage their persistent chronic pain, along with the other problems — or sequelae — it gives rise to.

In particular, Dr. Gromala noted findings from her studies make it clear that chronic pain patients have specialized needs when it comes to VR. “In order to be responsive,” Gromala said, “I’ve had to take a step back, conduct a number of very specific sub-studies, and in some cases, totally redesign a VR system.”

Dr. Gromala’s concerns for the welfare of patients and pain doctors is noteworthy: “My nightmare is that this second phase of hype about VR may lead those who are not technical experts to buy off-the-shelf VR gear and off-the-shelf VR games, thinking that they will magically reduce pain in patients.” Gromala is also concerned that “some will believe unsubstantiated claims that are made — but are unproven and unregulated — in the tech industry.” One is the idea that sim-(simulator) sickness “is simply a matter of frame rate,” or how fast a computer can display the 3D worlds.

“Obviously,” she says, “I really DO think that VR is incredibly promising as a method to relieve and manage pain in ways that nothing else can. Otherwise I wouldn’t waste years of research.” The trouble Gromala articulates is that “VR is now a consumer technology. It doesn’t have to be tested to the rigorous extent that pharmaceuticals are — not that we want that, but there should be something in between.”
Dr. Gromala argues that sooner or later, we need to implement some level of certification or regulation, “especially for people who are at risk, like patients and kids.” Moreover, she’s concerned that although “we lived through the first phase of VR hype in the 1990s, most people have forgotten those lessons.”

“The last thing that chronic pain patients need is snake oil, yet their doctors aren’t expert in the technology in the same way they are expert in prescribing drugs. Why would they be?”
Dr Sean Mackay, Chief of the Division of Pain Medicine at Stanford University, spoke about how widespread chronic pain is, and how important treatment is, especially given the “opioid crisis” in North America.

As a Canada Research Chair at Simon Fraser University (SFU), Dr. Gromala works closely with collaborators who range from health experts and non-profit organizations to tech and life science companies. “Most important are those on the front line — chronic pain patients and the pain doctors who treat them,” says Gromala. “Therefore, it’s essential to get the results of my research and the systems I build out into the world, as quickly and safely as possible.” To this end, Gromala founded and directs the Pain Studies Lab and the Chronic Pain Research Institute at SFU, and is active in broad initiatives, such as Canada-wide research networks and Innovation Boulevard. “Just down the street, Innovation Boulevard is ‘an agile partnership of health, business, higher ed and government creating new health technologies to improve peoples’ lives’.”

We’re lucky to have such initiatives in British Columbia, and our proximity to Seattle and the Silicon Valley gives us extraordinary opportunities” says Gromala.

The conference was made possible by the May Day Fund, a non-profit organization that “is dedicated to alleviating the incidence, degree and consequence of human physical pain.” May Day funds “innovative projects to close the gap between knowledge and practice in the care and treatment of pain.”

Sep 20

Pain Lab Hosts Collaborators for a Participatory Design Visit

During their visit to the Pain Studies Lab, Dr. Owen Williamson, Clinical Kinesiologist Jordan Smith, and Clinical Kinesiologist Daehan Kim courteously shared their expertise and knowledge in their fields with the members of the lab. They also provided invaluable input by providing their acknowledgement about the role of Virtual Reality for helping people who are in pain. After a thorough assessment about the shortcomings of off-the-shelf Virtual Reality experiences; a brainstorming session is held in order to come up with pertinent design paradigms regarding Virtual Reality applications which are aimed at specific medical conditions.

Dr Owen Williamson is an orthopaedic spine surgeon and specialist pain medicine physician.
Jordan Smith is a Clinical Kinesiologist and Trainer with a specialization in pain management.
Daehan Kim is a Researcher, Clinical Kinesiologist and Trainer who is currently working at Essential Kinetics.

Frederico (left), Serkan (middle) and Jordan Smith (right) while they are in exchange of ideas.

Frederico (left), Serkan (middle) and Jordan Smith (right) while they are in exchange of ideas.

Jul 04

Poster presented at Canadian Pain Society Meeting

Pain Studies Lab members Xin Tong, Professor Diane Gromala, Weina Jin, and Dr. Pam Squire presented a poster at the May, 2016 Canadian Pain Society Annual Scientific Meeting held in Vancouver, British Columbia. The poster titled “Two Paradigms of Designing Virtual Reality for Chronic Pain Patients: Pain Self-Modulation vs. Pain Distraction” showcases two VR environments, Virtual Meditative Walk (VMW) and Mobius Floe (MF). Virtual Meditative Walk is a VR environment that focuses attention inward as mindfulness-based stress reduction is used for pain self-modulation. Mobius Floe is a VR environment that focuses attention outward as immersion and cognitive distraction is used for pain distraction.

Related Publication:
Tong, X., Gromala, D., Jin, W., Squire, P. (2016). “Two Paradigms of Designing Virtual Reality for Chronic Pain Patients: Pain Self-Modulation vs. Pain Distraction” Poster, Canadian Pain Society (CPS) Annual Scientific Meeting, Vancouver, May 23–24, 2016.

Jun 28

Pain Studies Lab’s Empathy Game Attracts Interest at the Canadian Pain Society’s Annual Scientific Meeting

The Pain Studies Lab’s members Weina Jin, Servet Ulaş, Xin Tong, Prof. Gromala and Prof. Shaw presented a poster on their interactive “AS IF” empathy game at the Canadian Pain Society’s Annual Scientific Meeting (CPS). As a chapter of the IASP (International Association for the Study of Pain), the CPS is a society of pain research scientists and healthcare professionals.

Pain Lab's poster presentation of AS IF game at CPS.

Pain Lab’s poster presentation of AS IF game at CPS.

AS IF gameplay.

AS IF gameplay.

It was a delight to see that our work gained recognition from medical and pain research community. During the presentation, some of the interested healthcare professionals suggested that this game could have additional applications beyond its starting point, which is to elicit the public’s empathy towards people with chronic pain. For example, some attendees were enthusiastic about how useful the game would be in helping to educate medical and nursing students about what a patient’s experience is like. It was exciting to get inspirations from medical community and to see the rising interest of such professional communities in health-related technologies.

CPS presentations ranged from the biochemistry of pain to new ideas of how the placebo phenomenon might work.

CPS presentations ranged from the biochemistry of pain to new ideas of how the placebo phenomenon might work.


Related Publication:
W. Jin, S. Ulaş, X. Tong, D. Gromala, C. Shaw, “Chronic Pain: Gaining Understanding and Empathy
Through an Interactive System,” Canadian Pain Society (CPS) Annual Scientific Meeting,
Vancouver, May 23–24, 2016.

May 31

Nazemi attends Design Research in Health Care conference

Mark Nazemi, Ph.D. candidate and researcher at the Pain Studies Lab presented at “Design Research in Health Care conference” in Lucerne, Switzerland in January, 2016. Nazemi’s research is titled “Immersive Sound Techniques + VR for Pain & Anxiety Management.” This research provides an alternative non-invasive approach using customized 3-D immersive audio recordings to manage pain and anxiety. This highly specific listening process creates a perceptual change of environment providing relief for the listener. His research also discusses how VR therapy is used for pain management and mindfulness training.

Mark Nazemi, “Immersive Sound Techniques + VR for Pain Management”, D-Health Conference. 2016. University of Lucerne, Switzerland.

May 26

Dimple Gupta serves on Pain BC Education Committee

Pain Studies Lab researcher and BC registered social worker, Dimple Gupta, has been a member of the Pain BC Education Committee since Fall, 2014. The purpose and goal of this committee is to assist Pain BC to design and review continuing education programs to train inter-disciplinary health care professionals. The education programs and trainings are focused on bringing knowledge and skills to health care professionals on various chronic pain topics. The Pain BC Education Committee meets regularly under the chairpersonship of Frances Kirson, Education & Engagement Director, Pain BC. Visit the Pain BC website to learn more about trainings offered:

Apr 17

SFU’s Pain Studies Lab at ‘Medicine Meets VR’ Conference



Pain Studies Lab members presented results of their research at the Medicine Meets Virtual Reality (MMVR) 2016 conference in Los Angeles, April 7-9. MMVR is an international scientific forum on advanced computer-based technologies for medical care and education. Its participants are scientists, engineers, physicians, educators, students, military and industry members, and healthcare futurists.

Dr. Chris Shaw presented a talk entitled “Usability Comparisons of Head-Mounted vs. Stereoscopic Desktop Displays in a Virtual Reality Environment with Pain Patients,” an investigation of simulator sickness in VR displays when used specifically by pain patients. Weina Jin introduced the results of a clinical study involving VR as a method of pain distraction. The study examined the efficacy of a VR “game” designed at the Pain Lab specifically for people who live with long-term chronic pain. An example of a “serious game,” the study demonstrated that it is an effective method of pain distraction.

This and other studies were limited to measuring the short-term analgesic effects of VR, but according to Dr. Gromala, who heads the Pain Studies Lab, “chronic pain patients have multiple needs for pain relief,” in the short-term, during times of ‘breakthrough pain,’ and over long periods of time. She adds, “while we developed a new paradigm for VR that we hope may prove useful for the long-term, we are committed to discovering the ways that VR — or any technology — can help.”

Ashfaq Amin presented “Immersion in Cardboard VR Compared to a Traditional Head-Mounted Display.” This poster describes a study conducted among 30 participants who used 3 different VR displays — Cardboard VR, Oculus Rift DK2, and Desktop. Participants in the study played the same VR game, and their experience of immersion was recorded using an Immersive Experience Questionnaire. Surprisingly, the results showed that Cardboard VR, despite its low resolution, performs almost as well as the Oculus Rift head-mounted display (HMD). Ashfaq, who is exploring affordable mobile VR technologies for pain self-management, carried home a best poster award for his work.

The findings of these studies were presented by individual researchers, but are the result of a team of interdisciplinary researchers in SFU’s Pain Studies Lab. The research was made possible by support from the Canadian Foundation for Innovation (CFI), the Canada Research Chair Program, NSERC (Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada), NCE-GRAND, and Simon Fraser University; pain experts Dr. Pamela Squire, Dr. Owen Williamson and Dr. Brenda Lau; and patients/members of British Columbia’s non-profit organization PainBC.

Feb 24

We were at SPIE 2016

Dr. Gromala, Dr. Shaw and our new member PhD. candidate Servet Ulas was at SPIE 2016, presenting. The paper presented in the panel chaired by Ian McDowall was Mobius Floe: an Immersive Virtual Reality Game for Pain Distraction. After a brief overview of our work and what Chronic Pain is and how Pain Distraction works explained by the attention capacity theory, Servet explained the game mechanics and the design decisions involved in the creation of Mobius Floe, how the metaphors employed in the conception of the gameworld may help with the explanation of a complex affliction that can only be managed with a biopsychosocial approach.

Oct 13

Tyler Fox “hooded” by senior supervisor Dr. Gromala

As part of the tradition of earning a PhD, Tyler Fox was “hooded” by his senior supervisor Dr. Gromala at SFU’s Fall Convocation ceremonies in October. PhDs earn the degree and additions to the graduation gear, namely, a long silken hood and a Renaissance-looking cap. Dr. Fox is now on faculty and is the Studio Director for the 
Interactive Media Design program at the University of Washington.


Sep 02

Pain Studies Lab celebrates Tong’s graduate thesis completion

Xin Tong successfully defended her M.Sc. thesis defence under supervisor Dr. Diane Gromala at the School of Interactive Arts and Technology, Simon Fraser University in August 2015.Tong’s thesis is titled “Encouraging Physical Activity with Gamification Approaches: Goal-setting, Social Community, and “FitPet” Game-based Mobile Application.” It focuses on investigating the effectiveness of certain gamification approaches for encouraging physical activity. Tong also developed the mobile interactive game — FitPet. The game associates the player’s physical activity (steps) to his/her virtual pet’s health condition and the growth level. She then compared it with two other common gamification strategies in a six-week field study. Results revealed that social interaction was the most effective one under certain condition among all three approaches. Although participants’ physical activity level in FitPetgroup did not have significant difference compared to the control group, participants liked the game and they gave suggestions to make the game more engaging. In her thesis, Tong also offers design implications for developing future gamification strategies for promoting physical activity, which are summarized from her interviews with the participants. Later, Pain Studies Lab researchers got together to celebrate Tong’s thesis completion.

Left to right:
Ashfaq Amin, Weina Jin, Dimple Gupta, Abhishek Gupta, Mahsoo Salimi
Mine, Servet Ulas, Xin Tong, Dr. Diane Gromala, Dr. Chris Shaw, Gillian Ramsay


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