VREX: an Open-Source Toolbox for Creating 3D VR Experiments

From VR Medicine News–The authors present VREX, a free open-source Unity toolbox for VR research in experimental psychology and neuroscience. Using VREX, researchers can create a series of interconnected virtual rooms. These rooms can be furnished and customized to suit the experimental question being tested. Rooms and environments can be combined to perform end-to-end experiments. “VREX simplifies the generation and setup of complicated VR scenes and experiments for researchers,” the authors note. VREX can be downloaded from vrex.mozello.com.

Vasser M, Kängsepp M, Magomedkerimov M, et al. VREX: an open-source toolbox for creating 3D virtual reality experiments. BMC Psychol. 2017;5(1):4.

Applications of AR and VR in Neurosurgery

From VR Medicine News–Researchers at the University of California Los Angeles have reviewed the status of AR and VR in neurosurgery practice. They also discuss emerging applications of this technology in this field.

Pelargos PE, Nagasawa DT, Lagman C, et al. Utilizing virtual and augmented reality for educational and clinical enhancements in neurosurgery. J Clin Neurosci. 2017 Jan;35:1-4. doi: 10.1016/j.jocn.2016.09.002.

A Virtual Environment for Cerebral Palsy

From VR Medicine News–Brazilian-based researchers have developed a virtual environment to assist with rehabilitation in children with cerebral palsy. Eight clinical experts on cerebral palsy responded favorably to a questionnaire about the potential for the virtual environment to help patients.  “Based on the very positive appraisal of the experts, we propose that the experimental virtual environment is a promising alternative tool for the rehabilitation of children with cerebral palsy,” the authors conclude.

de Oliveira JM, Fernandes RC, Pinto CS, Pinheiro PR, Ribeiro S, de Albuquerque VH. Novel Virtual Environment for Alternative Treatment of Children with Cerebral Palsy. Comput Intell Neurosci. 2016;2016:8984379. doi: 10.1155/2016/8984379.

VR Tests Effective in Measuring Alzheimer’s-Related Cognition Problems

From VR Medicine News–UK-based researchers have proposed novel Alzheimer’s screening tests based on virtual environments and game principles involving VR. Patients and healthy adults participated in a comparative study of four different tests that measured various aspects of cognition. “The results show the capacity of the new tests to distinguish healthy people from Alzheimer’s patients,” the authors conclude.

Montenegro JM, Argyriou V. Cognitive Evaluation for the Diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease based on Turing Test and Virtual Environments. Physiol Behav. 2017 Jan 27. pii: S0031-9384(17)30026-30024.

VR Effective in Brain Injury Rehab in Children

From VR Medicine News–Researchers in Italy have evaluated the efficacy of a Gait Real-time Analysis Interactive Lab (GRAIL) system using VR and found that it improved walking ability in a group of children with acquired brain injury (ABI). A total of 12 children with ABI underwent 10 sessions of treatment with the GRAIL system. Before and after evaluation showed significant improvements in several measures, including standing and walking. The findings support the “leading role that VR might have in the rehabilitation field,” the authors conclude.

Biffi E, Beretta E, Cesareo A, et al. An Immersive Virtual Reality Platform to Enhance Walking Ability of Children with Acquired Brain Injuries. Methods Inf Med. 2017 Jan 24. doi: 10.3414/ME16-02-0020.

Adaptive VR System Being Tested in Autism

From VR Medicine News–Researchers, working with autistic children, have developed a novel VR-based interactive system using anxiety-sensitive adaptive technology. Specifically, the system uses real-time biomarkers to measure anxiety level and then adapts its response to help improve communication skills. The current study is a “proof of concept,” but the authors suggest that the system could serve “as a potent complementary tool in the hands of [a] therapist.

Kuriakose S, Lahiri U. Design of a Physiology-sensitive VR-based Social Communication Platform for Children with Autism. IEEE Trans Neural Syst Rehabil Eng. 2016 Sep 27. doi: 10.1109/TNSRE.2016.2613879.

Multiple Sclerosis, Motor Therapy, and VR

From VR Medicine News–A review article published in Advances in Experimental Medicine and Biology describes interventions for restoring motor function in multiple sclerosis In addition to virtual reality training, these technologies include robotics and constraint-induced movement therapy (CIMT). Another promising strategy for enhancing neuroplastic changes is non-invasive brain stimulation that can be used with a priming effect on motor training, the researchers note. The article summarizes the technologies and interventions that have been evaluated in clinical trials to date.

Straudi S, Basaglia N. Neuroplasticity-Based Technologies and Interventions for Restoring Motor Functions in Multiple Sclerosis. Adv Exp Med Biol. 2017;958:171-185. doi: 10.1007/978-3-319-47861-6_11.

VR Used to Help Simulate Brain Effects of Long-term Driving

Brain activity during long term driving fatigue simulated with Semi-immersive virtual reality technology was measured with functional near-infrared spectroscopy. The researchers, based in China, found that progressive mental fatigue had an adverse effect on cognitive function in the prefrontal cortex (PFC), and the interaction between the PFC and the motor cortex. Why it’s relevant: shows how VR can be useful in recreating environments for brain physiology research.

Xu L, Wang B, Xu G, Wang W, Liu Z, Li Z. Functional connectivity analysis using fNIRS in healthy subjects during prolonged simulated driving. Neurosci Lett. 2017 Jan 10;640:21-28. doi: 10.1016/j.neulet.2017.01.018.

Virtual Reality Cage Extension Developed for Rodents

Researchers collaborating in Germany and Israel have developed a rodent cage integrated with a VR arena, which they say will enable “highly efficient experimentation for complex cognitive experiments.” According to the researchers, the development could facilitate many new applications. For example, miniature fluorescence microscopes could be used to monitor brain activity in freely moving rodents. In the current study, published today in the Journal of Neurophysiology, the researchers introduced rats to a spherical virtual reality treadmill called a servoball and monitored cells in the rats’ entorhinal cortex, a part of the brain that functions in memory and navigation. Why it’s relevant: the use of VR in animal models could dramatically expand our understanding of brain physiology in a range of VR replicated settings. This type of model could also be used to understand how VR effects the brain in general.

Kaupert U, Thurley K, Frei K, et al. Spatial cognition in a virtual reality home-cage extension for freely moving rodents. J Neurophysiol. 2017 Jan 11:jn.00630.2016. doi: 10.1152/jn.00630.2016.