How a health tech company is using virtual reality to treat stem cell patients 


Photo: Jessica Lewis

Virtual reality may soon be used to treat cancer patients who are recovering from stem cell procedures.  

Healthcare technology company Rocket VR Health—in partnership with Massachusetts General Hospital—is developing a virtual reality (VR) therapy that intends to enhance the quality of life of cancer patients who receive stem cell transplants.  

Specifically, the therapy is intended to help with distress management in blood cancer patients undergoing blood stem cell transplantation (HCT) in an in-clinic setting. HCT (short for hematopoietic cell transplantation) can be used to treat certain types of cancer, such as leukemia, myeloma, and lymphoma, and other blood and immune system diseases that affect the bone marrow. 

The average hospital length of stay for patients with hematologic malignancies—cancers that start in blood forming tissues such as bone marrow—who undergo HCT is typically 28 days. During the hospitalization period, patients can’t leave their rooms as their immune system is weakened while their bone marrow is re-generated.  

As contact with the outside world is limited during recovery, patients may endure significant short-term and long-term distress that affects their physical and psychological well-being. 

The treatment being developed consists of psychoeducation, therapy, and relaxation exercises in a VR environment designed to be self-administered by patients. The immersive environment aims to give patients access to the outside world virtually while being confined to their hospital room. 

It is reported that patients who receive integrated psychological interventions during their hospital stays have fewer depression and PTSD symptoms than those who receive standard transplant care alone. 

Rocket VR Health hopes to create a therapy that hospitals and health systems can offer to patients using clinically validated therapies over fully-immersive virtual reality to make psychosocial care more accessible and effective. 

One thought on “How a health tech company is using virtual reality to treat stem cell patients 

  1. Stressed is highly related to low immunity to fight against infection diseases and cancers. When the people are in stress, hormone corticosteroid is released to suppress the effectiveness of the immune system (e. g. low number of lymphocytes). Substantial evidence proved that a correlation between stress and low immune function (NK activity, proliferative and mitogen response). Evidence showed that stress in man is closely related to the number or percent of circulating white blood cells, immunoglobulin level and antibody titer to virus infection. However, immune response is varied with stressor duration. Results of clinical investigation in breast cancer patients revealed that patients with high initial subjective stress showed poor initial T cell blastogenesis. Whereas, patients who exhibited an early of rapid decline in subjective stress showed rapid Improvement in NK cytotoxicity (NKCC) . Hence, NK and T cells are sensitive to different aspects of stress response while T cells blastogenesis correlated with initial subjective stress, NKCC correlated with change (improvement ) in subjective stress.

    Most patients after receiving cancer treatment tend to have low immune function to fight against infection diseases. The recovery of immune response is crucial for patients to improve their immunity to prevent infection diseases and regrowth of cancers. Patients with long-term hospitalization tend to develop stress, this may further delay the recovery of immune system. Therefore, virtual reality therapy is an alternative approach to reduce the stress of cancer patients undergoing cancer treatment.

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