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Healthcare Industry Turns to Video Games to Treat MS

The video game industry continues to pave the way for advancements outside of entertainment. Now, a creative new partnership between technology and pharmaceutical giants is reimagining medical imaging, and with it, tackling an incurable and unpredictable central nervous system disease that affects 2.3 million people globally.

Microsoft recently teamed up with Novartis AG to develop AssessMS to treat those suffering from multiple sclerosis (MS). The new program, which uses the Microsoft Kinect’s motion-tracking and camera technology, allows researchers to analyze important data regarding the patient’s physical symptoms, such as gait and dexterity, by recording their movements.

Imprecise measurements and inconsistent assessments of patients’ movements currently complicate patients and doctors’ ability to evaluate the severity of MS symptoms and make informed choices about care and treatment options. These medical difficulties carry over into the pharmaceutical industry, making new drug trials challenging and costly.

Microsoft and Novartis believe their new program can change this calculus by offering more refined data. As patients perform simple body movements and gestures in front of the Kinect motion-sensing camera, doctors are able to evaluate precise information to evaluate the degree of impairment.

So far, prototypes have run hundreds of tests with patients in three of the top MS clinics in Europe. If the system shows promise, Novartis hopes to pursue the clinical validation process and seek regulatory approval.

Healthcare Industry Turns to Video Games to Treat MS

Healthcare Industry Turns to Video Games to Treat MS

This new system marks a break with previous games-based treatment options. Previously, doctors and patients primarily used games such as the Nintendo Wii Balance Board to help people with MS improve their balance. However, as several recent studies have found, games can help patients improve motor skills and visual acuity, sharpen short-term memory, reduce depressive symptoms, and relieve chronic pain, all difficulties common among people with MS.

“This is really super-interesting work,” Tim Coetzee, chief advocacy, services, and research officer at the National MS Society in the U.S. told Bloomberg. “The problem we are trying to solve in MS cries out for tools like this one where it is about being able to give the physician some consistent approach to measure the evolution of the disease.”

With these new advancements, the video game industry has the potential to revolutionize healthcare. As studies and tests continue to improve and evolve, researchers and game companies alike are working together to discover new treatments – even cures – to some of today’s biggest medical challenges.

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Related topics such as image processing, machine vision, virtual reality, machine learning, data mining, and monitoring systems are my research interests, and I intend to pursue a PhD in one of these fields.

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