Eye tracking Virtual reality technology to make MRI a new experience

Researchers at King’s College London have created a new interactive virtual reality system to be used by patients when performing an MRI.

In a new article published in Scientific reports, according to the researchers, hope that this progress will be easier for those who find it difficult to do an MRI, such as children, people with cognitive difficulties or those who suffer from claustrophobia or anxiety.

Under normal circumstances, MRI scans fail in up to 50 percent of children under the age of 5, meaning hospitals often rely on sedative medications or even anesthesia to have children scanned successfully.

These measures are time consuming and have their own associated risks. From a neuroscience standpoint, it also means that MRI-based studies on brain function are generally only studied in these vulnerable populations during an artificially induced sleep state, so it may not be representative of how the brain works. brain under normal circumstances.

Principal Investigator Kun Qian, of King’s College London School of Biomedical Engineering and Imaging Sciences, said that performing an MRI can be a strange experience as it involves entering a narrow, noisy tunnel. strong and often strange in the background, despite having to stay as still as possible.

“We were willing to find other ways to allow children and vulnerable people to have an MRI,” Dr. Qian said.

“Our interest in virtual reality arose from the simple observation that when someone uses and immerses themselves in a virtual reality environment, they are completely unaware of their environment. We thought that if we could make a system compatible with the environment of MRI, could be a very powerful alternative way to successfully scan these challenging populations. “

To provide patients with an immersive virtual reality environment, the researchers developed special VR headsets that can be used safely inside the MRI scanner.

The headphones are designed to be lightweight, so the user cannot see their surroundings and is unaware of the visual reminders of their position.

Once the system is properly positioned, the system projector will be active immediately, providing immersive content and the virtual reality experience will be continuous from that point until the patient withdraws at the end of the exam.

Researchers say this and other measures are highly effective in eliminating the feeling of being inside the MRI scanner, as their visual scene is completely replaced by the VR environment and creates congruence with the other sensations that are they perceive during MRI scans, such as scanner noise. , table movement and table vibration.

So far, this has been done including elements in the visual scene that indicate that construction work is underway in the virtual world, which could explain the noise and vibration of the scanner.

One of the main innovations of this system is that users can interact with the virtual world only with the gaze of the eyes: how we do things in our day to day.

Currently, there are no other MR-compatible systems that combine a virtual reality presentation system with intuitive interaction in this way.

Using their gaze (i.e. just looking at objects or areas of the VR environment), the user can navigate the virtual world, select content such as movies and games, play and start or end a video link on their company / caregiver.

The latter means that an anxious patient can interact at will with a companion or caregiver at any time during their examination using a webcam with a microphone and a screen monitor installed in the console area.

Researchers say the next steps for the system are to develop content and test it with patients.

“It is essential to develop the right content, because for the system to be effective it must maintain the attention of a subject / patient and his sense of immersion as long as possible. Because this content is likely to be very different depending on age and cognitive abilities, doing it well and adapting it to different clinical and study populations is a key next step, ”said Dr. Qian. .

The co-author, Dr. Tomoki Arichi said: “We are very excited about the possibilities that this system opens up for vulnerable and important populations such as children and those with difficulties that could mean that MRI cannot normally be done without sleep. not only can it make a huge difference to daily clinical practice, but it also paves the way for us to gain a dramatic new insight into how patterns of brain function, behavior, and social skills develop throughout our lives. ”

Reference: August 11, 2021, Scientific reports.
DOI: 10.1038 / s41598-021-95634-i

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