From virtual to reality

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‘An orthoptist and an animator walk into a coffee shop’ sounds like the beginning of a bad joke, but is in fact the origin story of how an innovative collaboration has begun through the IWK Pediatric Vision Science Research Group (PVSRG).

“It was honestly a happy accident. I was notified by an IWK colleague of a presentation that Copernicus Animation Studios was holding. She noticed there was a virtual reality element to it and thought it might have potential for the eye clinic. Boy was she right,” Dr. Darren Oystreck, chief, IWK Orthoptics says. “Right after the presentation, I asked Ryan for coffee to brainstorm. And the rest, as they say, is history.”

Oystreck is speaking of a presentation by Ryan Cameron, employee of Copernicus Studios and now, thanks to this fateful meeting, CEO of a company called Electric Puppets.

“We have been doing virtual reality programming for years, mostly in the fields of animation and gaming,” Cameron says. “After the company won the Innovacorp Spark competition and moved into the Life Sciences Research building, the pivot to medical technology really took off. The meeting with Oystreck was a prime example of how collaboration leads to innovation.”

Immediately after the presentation that day, Cameron and Oystreck toured the eye clinic, where they discussed opportunities for how virtual reality could be used. The research work advanced from there through the PVSRG, with the aid of Steve Van Iderstine, research associate, Francois Tremblay, manager, Electrophysiology Lab and Dr. Robert LaRoche, chief, pediatric ophthalmology at IWK.

The group immediately saw that the potential benefits of applying virtual reality in the clinic were twofold. It could provide better clinical data as well as a better patient experience.

“The IWK Eye Clinic has an excellent reputation, both locally and internationally,” Van Iderstine says. “But some of the technology in the ophthalmology field itself is antiquated and measurements have to be taken manually, one after another.”

Evrisia is the flagship product recently unveiled by Electric Puppets as the fruit of this collaboration. The immersive platform records movement, eye position and pupil size, and can be played back in virtual reality by a clinician. It presents customized environments, characters, and props to create an engaging patient experience.

“The goal is that one day a child in the waiting room, will be immersed in a virtual reality, with cool animated characters and engaging game play,” Tremblay says. “All the while, measurements are being taken and fed to a clinician – with more accuracy, consistency and depth than ever before.”

The group has recently received approval from the IWK Research Ethics Board to begin clinical trials with the eye clinic patient population.

“Based on the tests we have already seen, we have every reason to believe this research and the innovation coming out of it will be a game-changer,” Oystreck says.