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Using virtual reality and multi-sensory cues to understand and treat chronic pain

University of Exeter PhD student, Joao Mineiro, is using our VSimulators facility to explore how people perceive pain.

PhD student Joao Miniero wears virtual simulation glasses in our VSimulators facility.
After using our VSimulators facility, PhD student Joao Miniero is now pursuing a PhD with funding from EPSRC.

Cornwall-based physiotherapist Joao was studying for a self-funded PhD researching how people perceive object weight and how that relates to illusions in virtual reality. When his PhD supervisor was unable to attend the launch of our new VSimulators facility, Joao volunteered to go along instead.

Attending the VSimulators launch event

Our VSimulators facility is based in our 6 East Structures Lab. It uses virtual reality projection and a moving hydraulic platform to immerse people in a range of lifelike environments. We can also control lighting, sound, temperature and airflow controls to investigate how people respond to their built environment.

At the VSimulators launch event, attendees were challenged to come up with ideas for using the Bath VSimulators facility. Joao said: “When thinking about ideas to put on my competition card entry, the presentations at the launch made me realise the Bath VSimulator would be an interesting tool to study how people in pain integrate multi-sensory cues.

"This could include visual cues such as colour and light. This could also include proprioceptive cues such as vibration for which literature is scant."

Using the facility

Joao’s idea won the competition and he was offered the chance to be one of the first to use our brand new facility. He worked with researchers at Bath to see how the facility could be used to investigate pain, including whether there were any differences in the way pain free people and those experiencing experimental pain perceived and tolerated vibration.

“The literature shows that, currently, virtual reality-based interventions for pain are mainly used for distraction, with immersive environments that people watch or walk around. But there has been little work carried out into how people in pain interact with immersive virtual reality, which is very relevant."

Joao has now been awarded an EPSRC-funded studentship to continue his research at Exeter. He’ll include the results of his study using the Bath VSimulator facility for his PhD.

‘It’s exciting to do something outside what we had envisaged when this started. I’m intrigued as to the possibilities that this project provides us with in terms of demonstrating the capability of the facility.’
Dr Antony Darby Reader in Structural Engineering

Find out more about our VSimulators facility

Visit the VSimulators website

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If you are interested undertaking similar investigations and would like to discuss a programme which involves using VSimulators, for either academic or commercial use.