The link between video games and the medical world is relatively recent but is beginning to prove itself, particularly in the field of neuroscience. This is the case of Johns Hopkins University’s Faculty of Medicine and its Brain, Learning, Animation and Movement Lab (BLAM), led by Dr. John Krakauer. In collaboration with a team of video game developers (Bandit’s Shark Showdown), they innovate and offer a different way of approaching post- stroke rehabilitation with their dolphin “Bandit”.
A mind sensitive to the aesthetics of movement
For many years of research Dr. Krakauer has been interested in movement, motor control and aesthetics. He sought to understand why people find so much fun watching how football players or professional dancers move. Part of this lies, he says, in the fact that “spectators are sensitive to the way these agile and graceful athletes move, which creates something deep in their minds”. His idea was to make a simulation game that evoked those same desires.
An innovative driving connection
Using a robotic harness, patients learn to synchronize the movements of their arms with those of the dolphin. Dr. Krakauer hopes that with this “motor empathy,” he will allow patients to stay engaged in the immersive world of play for hours, by contracting their real muscles to move the virtual dolphin. The goal of the developers is to create an animal simulation realistic enough to activate a kind of “motor connection”. That’s a visceral link between the moving body of the patient and the simulated dolphin.
This game was the subject of a clinical study on 72 patients recruited during the five weeks following their stroke. They have tested the game at Columbia University and at a clinic in Zurich. Twice a day for three weeks, the patients play for one hour in the reeducative version of the game “I am Dolphin” with the Hocoma robot. And the control group received a conventional occupational therapy.
From the laboratory to the start-up for stroke rehabilitation
With all his research, Dr. Krakauer wants to gain some financial autonomy, independent of traditional funding structures in the medical community. He founded Neuro Motor Innovations Corporation (NMI) in 2017. This is a medical technology company whose mission is to improve stroke and cognition outcomes in stroke patients.
In November 2018, the Swiss start-up MindMaze announced the acquisition of NMI to complete its current approach to neurorehabilitation. MindMaze wants to continue the development and commercialization of NMI’s technology while maintaining its close relationship with Johns Hopkins.