The forward-thinking solution will leverate haptics and mixed reality to help patients recover from traumatic brain injuries
Virtual reality tools from companies like Neuromersiv can help victims of traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) regain control of their extremities, The Australian Department of Health and Aged Care announced on Monday.
For many people suffering from such debilitating conditions, they face long periods of rehabilitation and recuperation after illnesses like stroke, heart attack, aneurysms, and others that damage the brain.
This also applies to patients who have received TBIs from car crashes, falls, and other related injuries. Following these incidences, the long road to therapy often requires long, boring, and repetitive treatments.
Such rote practices can limit the potential recovery rates that victims can receive due to a lack of enthusiasm for the doctor’s choice of therapy, the ADHAC said.
However, with the rise of virtual, augmented, and mixed reality solutions, Australian doctors have turned to virtual reality (VR) firm Neuromersiv, which developed the Ulysses VR Upper Limb Therapy System.
With a tetherless VR headset, doctors can help brain injury survivors perform repeat tasks to accelerate recovery times, using Neuromersiv’s therapeutic activities.
According to data from the company’s website, the system leverages Meta’s Quest 2 headsets.
MTPConnect Biomedical Horizons Programme
To build the device, Neuromersiv leveraged the Australian Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF)’s MTPConnect Biomedical Horizons Programme. The initiative funded the Ulysses VR system with a $994,000 endowment, according to the Ministry.
Leveraging gamified immersive activities with reward systems, doctors can encourage patients to complete their full rehabilitative training, leading to better patient outcomes.
Anshul Dayal, Chief Executive, Neuromersiv, said in a statement,
“As soon as the person puts on the headset, they are totally immersed,’ CEO Anshul Dayal enthuses. ‘Like with gamers, dopamine kicks in and they want to keep going. So VR creates the motivation to keep doing your therapy. That can lead to better function recovery”
He added that he was “proud” to have entered the Ulysses VR software system in markets across Australia and the United Kingdom.
Leveraging Haptic Gloves to Build Muscle Memory
Neuromersiv’s Ulysses VR Upper Limb Therapy System also includes wearables such as a hand and arm glove, which stimulates patient muscles. These also provide sensory feedback from virtual environments in real-time, complete with two therapy modes for the VR platform.
The VR wearable incorporates functional electrical stimulation (FES) therapies to reactivate muscles the patient cannot normally move. It does this by sending small electrical currents to parts of the forearm and other points on the body “to stimulate extension and flexion.”
“If the survivor is trying to brush their teeth in virtual reality but they just can’t grab the virtual toothbrush, the FES can assist with the grabbing action by stimulating flexion of the wrist and fingers. This stimulation creates a feedback loop that can be a catalyst for the brain to form new neural pathways to recover lost function. This is often referred to as brain neuroplasticity and is the key to long-term functional recovery”
For example, the haptic gloves can stimulate muscle functionality, allowing users to practice brushing their teeth in VR. The solution also uses haptic feedback to signal when the patient is completing a task.
Doing so aims to “enhance the sensory feedback” a patient receives “because that helps the brain start to recognise the end of the fingertips.”
“When the person stops doing that task, they still feel tingling on the fingertips. That helps reactivate those neural connections,” he added.
Anshul explained further that his company was “building a system that has multiple layers.” For it, the Ulysses VR system combined “visual and sensory aspects” to improve functional recovery.
“We think we are the first company in the world to combine FES, haptics and virtual reality,” he said.
Ulysses VR Challenges and Rewards
Additionally, teams designing the Ulysses VR system overcame technical challenges with the onboard VR headset cameras, which track the patient’s hands. For example, when wearing the first prototyped haptic glove device, headsets failed to utilise hand-tracking tools due to the wearable’s exoskeleton.
Teams needed to correct the issues with rigorous user testing and design modification.
Anshul added that for the FES functionality on Ulysses VR, the company had “created a sleeve with adjustable electrodes to wrap on the forearm.”
He said: “For the haptics, we created a unique system of finger caps connected by soft & thin wires. It goes on top of the hand and doesn’t interfere with the tracking. The next challenge was creating a wireless control unit for the glove that was compact and lightweight.”
Neuromersiv: Receiving Australia’s Seal of Approval
The VR company will seek approval from the Therapeutic Goods Administration, greenlighting the device for commercial use in Australia.
To achieve this, the firm will launch a major clinical research trial where it can build a body of evidence on the haptic gloves’ efficacy, safety, and reliability.
Anshul explained that working with people in their homes and clinics revealed the challenging conditions patients face after receiving brain injuries.
“That inspires me to help people through this Ulysses solution,” he stated.
He concluded: “I have seen proof that when they use the system, they feel motivated and excited. They feel this can really help their therapy, and that’s quite rewarding.”
The news comes after companies like Rocket VR, Virti, OssoVR, Rendever, and many others work to treat patients using virtual reality solutions.
To meet the challenges of providing effective healthcare, US virtual reality firm Penumbra recently teamed up with Taiwanese headset maker HTC VIVE to offer patients forward-thinking VR therapy solutions.
At the time, XR Today spoke to Adam Elsesser, Chief Executive and Co-Founder, Penumbra, to explore the benefits of using VR-based therapies to rehabilitate patients, leading to transformative outcomes.