Category Archive: Our News

Oct 08

Pain Lab @ IASP World Congress on Pain 2016, Japan

Dr. Chris Shaw and Dr. Diane Gromala at the Yokohama Convention Center, site of the 16th World Congress on Pain.


The Pain Studies Lab members presented two posters at the IASP’s (International Association for the Study of Pain’s) 16th World Congress on Pain in Yokohama, Japan on September 27th and 30th.
The International Association for the Study of Pain (IASP) is an international learned society promoting research, education, and policies for the knowledge and management of pain. The IASP was founded in 1973 and publishes the scientific journal Pain. Currently, the IASP has more than 7,900 members from 133 countries.

More than 4,400 health professionals, researchers, and practitioners participated in this year’s plenary sessions, workshops, and poster sessions that define the cutting edge of pain research and treatment.

Lab Founder Dr. Diane Gromala presented Two Paradigms of Designing Virtual Reality for Chronic Pain Patients: Pain Self-Modulation vs. Pain Distraction. This poster introduced two paradigms we have investigated that may help Chronic Pain (CP) patients better self-manage their pain through Virtual Reality (VR) technology: pain distraction and what Dr. Gromala terms “pain self-modulation.” Two immersive VR environments, each of which represents a paradigm, were designed, built and tested in the Pain Studies Lab: Virtual Meditative Walk and Möbius Floe.
Citation: Two Paradigms of Designing Virtual Reality for Chronic Pain Patients: Pain Self-Modulation vs. Pain Distraction. Xin Tong, Diane Gromala, Weina Jin, Pam Squire. 16th World Congress on Pain in Yokohama, Japan.


Dr. Chris Shaw presented AS IF, a serious game designed by Pain Studies Lab members Weina Jin, Xin Tong and Servet Ulas. The goal of this game is to foster the empathy and understanding towards chronic pain patients’ situations. AS IF simulates the bodily motion limitations of a chronic pain patient and displays pain visualizations on a player’s avatar, that is, their virtual body.

Citation: AS IF: an Empathy Game for Chronic Pain. Weina Jin, Servet Ulas, Xin Tong, Dr. Diane Gromala, Dr. Chris Shaw.16th World Congress on Pain in Yokohama, Japan.



Sep 21

Pain Lab’s Students Present Five Posters in PainWeek 2016

PAINWeek is the largest pain conference in US for frontline clinicians with an interest in pain management. This year the conference was held during September 6-10 in Las Vegas, NV, USA. Pain Studies Lab members–Ashfaq Amin and Frederico Machuca presented five posters in the conference. The general themes of the posters were Virtual Reality, Pain, Depression and Empathy.

Ashfaq Amin presented in PainWeek 2016

Ashfaq Amin presented in PainWeek 2016

Frederico Machuca in PainWeek 2016

Frederico Machuca in PainWeek 2016

The five posters that got accepted in this conference are:

1. “Two Paradigms of Designing Virtual Reality for Chronic Pain Patients:
Pain Self-Modulation vs. Pain Distraction
“, Xin Tong, Diane Gromala, Ashfaq Amin, Weina Jin, Pam Squire(MD).

2. “Comparison of Immersion in Cardboard VR and Oculus Rift for Playing a Pain Management Game“, Ashfaq Amin, Diane Gromala.

3. “ AS IF: gaining understanding and empathy through an interactive system“, Weina Jin, Xin Tong, Servet Ulas, Frederico Machuca, Diane Gromala

4. “Using Virtual Reality Game for Chronic Pain Management A Randomized Clinical Study“, Weina Jin, Amber Choo, Ashfaq Amin, Diane Gromala, Chris Shaw.

5. “Serious Game for Serious Disease: Diminishing Stigma of Depression via Game Experience“, Weina Jin, Diane Gromala, Frederico Machuca.

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.

Aug 30

Xin Tong: the Pain Lab’s Unity Certified Developer

Pain Lab Ph.D. student Xin Tong recently earned formal certification as a Unity Developer. She sat Unity’s Certified Developer Exam on August 13th at the Centre of Digital Media in Vancouver. Unity’s goal of holding such exams is to help developers validate their Unity knowledge and skills.

The Unity Certified Developer Exam covers foundational skills for video game development with Unity, has 100 questions spanning 16 areas of competency, and is intended to evaluate knowledge for a comprehensive understanding of the game production process. Approximately 50 people took the exam and Xin was one of the few female candidates present.


Jul 17

Diane Gromala presents at Canadian Pain Society 2016 Meeting

Prof. Diane Gromala, PhD, presented “Is VR Useful for Pain Management? Challenges” at the Canadian Pain Society’s (CPS) Annual Scientific Meeting on May 27, 2016. The conference was held this year in Vancouver.

The Panel “Virtual Reality and Pain: A New Frontier or Smoke and Mirrors?” was chaired by Dr. Jeffrey Gold, a doctor at UCLA who specializes in paediatric pain, and Dr. Bernie Garrett from UBC’s School of Nursing who works with VR for chronic pain. The panelists discussed the historical and recent advances in the use of VR to alleviate and manage acute and chronic pain. 

Gromala is the Canada Research Chair (CRC) in Computational Technologies for Transforming pain, and is the Founding Director of the Chronic Pain Research Institute at SFU. Dr. Gromala began her exploration of VR and pain in 1991, the earliest days of VR. She has worked since that time on VR, focussing on chronic pain with her collaborators and students at the Pain Studies Lab at SFU in Surrey. 


Photograph : Prof. Diane Gromala, PhD, at the Canadian Pain Society’s (CPS) Annual Scientific Meeting on May 27, 2016 in Vancouver.

Jul 17

New virtual reality game Farmooo to help young cancer patients

SFU students Henry Lo and Janice Ng have developed a new virtual reality game called Farmooo. Farmooo serves as a pain management tool for young cancer patients undergoing treatment. Professor Diane Gromala from the Pain Studies Lab is the pair’s supervisor. Gromala’s research works at the confluence of computer science, media art and design, and has focused on the cultural, visceral, and embodied implications of digital technologies, particularly in the realm of chronic pain.

Read the full story at:
Photograph courtesy:, May 20, 2016


Jul 07

Exhibiting Pain

Susanne Main from the Faculty of Health & Social Care, The Open University, UK showcases online exhibitions called ‘Exhibiting Pain.’ These exhibitions are part of a PhD research project that help people in pain communicate what living with pain might look like. The exhibits consist of online art-work in various categories such as painting, installation, sculpture, textile and more and demonstrate how an invisible condition can be made visible through creativity. Main studies how audience interpret these works. If you are interested in viewing the exhibition or participating in the study, visit: or

Jun 08

Xin Tong and Ankit Gupta published an article about gamification, motivation, and physical activity promotion on Transactions on Pervasive Health 2016.

Pain Lab Ph.D. student Xin Tong and BioV Visualization Lab Ph.D. student Ankit Gupta’s research about gamification, motivation and physical activity –”Examining the Efficiency of Gamification Incentives for Encouraging Physical Activity – Social Collaborations or Interactive Mobile Games?” was presented at the 10th EAI International Conference on Pervasive Computing Technologies for Healthcare ( In May 2016, in Cancun Mexico. The article was subsequently published in EAI Transactions on Pervasive Health and Technology (impact factor 1.19).

This study found out that the social interaction strategy was the most effective intervention among these three. Contrary to prior research, goal-setting was not found to be as effective at providing motivation compared to social interaction. Although FitPet failed to promote significantly higher levels of physical activity, participants enjoyed this approach and provided design insights for future research: implementing social components and more challenging gameplay (as shown in the Figure below).


Examining the Efficiency of Gamification Incentives for Encouraging Physical Activity – Social Collaborations or Interactive Mobile Games? Xin Tong, Ankit Gupta, Diane Gromala, Chris Shaw, Carman Neustaedter. 10th EAI International Conference on Pervasive Computing Technologies for Healthcare (Pervasive Health), May 2016.

May 15

AS IF competes at CHI 2016 Student Game Competition as one of the Finalists Team

AS IF competes at CHI 2016 Student Game Competition as one of the Finalists Team

Pain Lab Ph.D. students Xin Tong, Servet Ulas and Weina Jin demonstrated their empathy game “AS IF” in CHI 2016 Student Game Competition. As one of the finalists they earned a Certificate of Recognition and “AS IF” also drew a lot of attention from attendees at CHI during the 3-day game demo as well as the final presentation. The game, incorporated with patients’ embodied experience, puts players in the shoes of people with Chronic Pain to give them insight and have them experience what it may be like living even a single day with this long-lasting affliction.

The ACM Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI) series of academic conferences is considered to be the most prestigious in the field of human–computer interaction (HCI) and is one of the top ranked conferences in computer science. The Student Game Competition is a juried track at CHI. Each game was reviewed by both academic and professional experts in game design and development, with emphasis on expertise in the entry categories. The student competitions at CHI continue to grow each year with increased international representation. The competition always draws a large audience at CHI and has also become a major recruiting opportunity for identifying talented students.

Related Publication:
Jin, W., Ulas, S., and Tong, X. AS IF: A Game As an Empathy Tool for Experiencing the Activity Limitations of Chronic Pain Patients. Proceedings of the 2016 CHI Conference Extended Abstracts on Human Factors in Computing Systems, ACM (2016), 172–175.

ASIFteam_CHI2016_funny CHI2016_StudentGameCompetitionDemo_player CHI2016_StudentGameCompetitionDemo_SU CHI2016_StudentGameCompetitionDemo_XT CHI2016_ASIFpresentation2 CHI2016_ASIFpresentation_XT

Feb 27

AS IF is picked up for the CHI Student Game Competition


AS IF, a project realized by our graduate students, Weina Jin, Servet Ulas and Xin Tong has been chosen to compete at the CHI Student Game Competition.AS IF aims to foster empathy towards patients who suffer from Chronic Pain by putting the user in the shoes of a patient and simulating the physical hindrances Chronic Pain causes. The participant is asked to complete simple motor tasks which involve touching shapes in a given order to reveal a shape. The tasks and the interactions are tied together with a narrative from the Chronic Pain patient’s perspective. Ourteam will be demo’ing and presenting AS IF at CHI in May 2016, see you there!

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