Today@Sam Article

The Unlikely Connection Between Art And Medicine

May 25, 2022
SHSU Media Contact: Emily Binetti

student wearing VR head set

Imagine being able to travel inside of your own body. What would it be like to explore and see what is happening? A new collaborative team wants to reinvent health education to allow patients to do just that.

Technology designers at Sam Houston State University have partnered with researchers, clinicians and patient education specialists at Nemours Children’s Hospital in Delaware to design, build and test a virtual reality (VR) health education program called CyberCell.

The SHSU team members include art faculty members Fredric Freeman, Sherman Finch, and David Rosario, with branding designed by student Lindsay Richardson.

The CyberCell VR Experience is a way to help pediatric patients with sickle cell disease and their caregivers better understand the complexities of the condition through the art of virtual reality. The goal is to provide evidence-based, immersive and interactive education about sickle cell disease and treatment options.

“Some complex conditions in the body are difficult to understand and hard for the medical community to explain simply,” said Dr. Melanie Pitone, a medical editor at Nemours Children’s Health. “It is a great honor to work with this team to help people learn through experience, rather than explanation.”

Freeman, who describes himself as an artist by heart with the brain of a scientist, serves as the creative director for VR design and development for this project. Freeman’s background in animation and experience in project design and development equipped him to help develop a solution that would educate and raise awareness for sickle cell disease through technology.

“Virtual reality holds one of the keys to how we interface with our new digital world, so intuitively, the project felt like a good way to potentially provide patients with the same level of ‘experience’ doctors, such as surgeons, receive during training,” Freeman said.

faculty demonstrate VR2 To help bring the project to life, Freeman recruited Finch, a visual and graphic design educator with expertise in user experience and user interaction, and Rosario, whose background in video game design was beneficial in creating engaging and interactive content and features of the VR experience.  

Finch introduced the project to his senior studio art class and added graphic design student, Lindsay Richardson, to the team to design the branding for the CyberCell VR Experience logo.

According to Aimee Hildenbrand, a pediatric psychologist at Nemours Children’s Health in Delaware and the lead research scientist for the project, the team is using input from youth with the disease, along with the input from their families, and healthcare providers to design and refine the VR experience.

“This will ensure that CyberCell is appealing, relevant, intuitive, and practical for users. Initial feedback from patients, families, and healthcare professionals has been very positive, and we plan to carefully study the impacts of this program in a future trial,” Hildenbrand said.

Photos: Suchat Penderson, Nemours Children’s Health

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