Can virtual reality help you control your brain?

Advances

Author: George TheohariPublished: 29 July 2015

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Scientists look at how futuristic gaming technology can control brain signals

Researchers in Canada are using virtual reality goggles to help patients learn to ‘take control’ of the area of their brain affected by Parkinson’s.

The experimental treatment – pioneered by a team from the University of Ottawa Brain and Mind Research Institute – involves patients attempting to control the colour of a ball within a virtual 3D environment.

Footage of the trial in action, broadcast by CTV News Ottawa, shows patient Gilles Cloutier taking part as he undergoes deep brain stimulation (DBS) surgery. While wearing the 3D goggles, he manages to change the colour of the virtual ball with his mind.

Chadwick Boulay, one of the brain experts working on the project, told CTV: “We are hoping to reduce the severity of the symptoms. At this very early stage we are trying to identify what kind of brain signals are important, and whether or not patients can learn to control their signals and – if they can – does that improve the symptoms?

“We have some good evidence that patients can control signals – the same signals that are important for their disease. We don’t know yet if controlling those signals will improve their behaviour. That’s what we hope to find out in the coming months.”

Dr Adam Sachs, a neurosurgeon at The Ottawa Hospital, added: “We are trying to use the virtual reality world to train people to control their brain activity in real time, so it’s like a biofeedback system arising directly in the area of the brain that is affected by Parkinson’s disease.”

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