VR-based avatar therapy combines psychology and virtual reality technology to provide transformative interventions for mental health disorders. Grounded in research, this therapy utilizes virtual reality and avatars to create immersive experiences. Through the concept of embodiment, individuals psychologically connect with their avatars, leading to significant changes in thoughts and behaviors. In schizophrenia, avatar therapy helps patients gain control over auditory hallucinations, but avatar therapy holds promise for improving mental health outcomes among patients with eating disorders, PTSD, bipolar disorder, borderline disorder, severe depression and many more
What are we trying to solve?
Hallucinations is one of the more salient symptoms in schizophrenia, particularly auditory hallucinations (i.e., “hearing voices”) that affects more than 70% of the patients. For the patient, auditory hallucinations are very real perceptions, and not imaginations. It is common for these voices to be negative, critical voices or unkind. Patients frequently describe how sometimes voices can bully them and tell you to do things you don’t want to. This can have an impact on patient’s confidence, sense of self-worth and motivation. In extreme cases voices can instruct people to harm themselves or others. Economically schizophrenia is one of the most expensive illnesses in the world. Treatment continues to be insufficient with 30% of patients still hear malevolent voices despite medical and psychological interventions. The high number of treatment resistant patients suffering from schizophrenia, paved the way for the idea of developing the avatar therapy.
Heka VR is currently conducting the largest to date VR-based avatar therapy study called the Challenge. The Challenge study focuses on treatment of hearing voices among adult treatment resistant schizophrenia patients. Our clinical collaborators are the University of Copenhagen with the PI Louise Birkedal Glenthøj and the VIRTU research group from the Capital Region in Denmark. The trial includes 266 patients randomly assigned to control or intervention groups. The first unblinded results can be expected at the end of 2023. Learn more about the Challenge trial methodology here, and about the clinical experience and use cases here. This trial is financed by the Innovation Fund Denmark.
Additional VR-based avatar study for adult treatment resistant schizophrenia patients started in early 2023, with Manhattan Psychiatric Center led by dr. Jean Pierre Lidnenmayer. 40 forensic in-patients will be recruited and we will be working on better understanding unique challenges when undergoing VR-AT. This trial is funded by the The Nathan Kline Institute for Psychiatric Research.
Remote avatar therapy study together with Swinburne University of Technology in Australia, led by dr. Neil Thomas is about to launch. As part of this trial we will recruit 212 patients that will receive therapy through Zoom, providing specialized therapy to people in remote areas who suffer from hearing voices. This research has been funded by the Innovation Fund Denmark.
We are currently getting ready to launch a new study with young individuals from 12 to 18 years old, who experience hearing voices together with University hospital in Aalborg in the Northern Region of Denmark, led by Dr. Ditte Lammers Vernal. The pilot study is funded by the Vision Denmark Fund.
A large randomized controlled trial is starting in September 2023 in collaboration with the University of Copenhagen with the PI Louise Birkedal Glenthøj and the VIRTU research group from the Capital Region in Denmark. This trial will include 212 patients suffering from anorexia nervosa and bulimia, where half will be assigned to the control vs. intervention group. The pilot study is currently ongoing as a prelude to the large RCT.
Additionally, we’re exploring the use of VR-based avatar therapy in areas such as bipolar disorder, borderline disorder, PTSD and even severe depression. Follow us as we carry out groundbreaking research, pushing the boundaries of healthcare and striving to improve lives. We are building the future of mental health care by creating a VR platform to treat mental illness!
Project Manager - Clinical Trials
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