Moffitt Cancer Center and Ringling College present new developments in virtual reality, gamification for MR-guided radiotherapy

October 15, 2021
Sarasota and Tampa, FL – October 14, 2021 – Ringling College of Art and Design and Moffitt Cancer Center today presented an update on new developments from their collaborative INDEX Virtual Reality project to enhance the cancer patient experience and improve the accuracy of MRI-guided Radiation Therapy (MRgRT). The Moffitt/Ringling College partnership began in 2019 to explore the creation of meaningful digital technologies to help decrease stress and enhance understanding for newly diagnosed patients during their journey, and discover new ways in which to train and coach patients through diagnosis and treatment.

“Patient stress levels at the time of a cancer diagnosis are very high, and core to addressing some of that stress is reducing fear of the unknown. In my practice, we need to deliver highly precise treatment so patient cooperation is essential. To be able to deliver immersive content through VR headsets can serve to alleviate some of that stress by allowing a new patient to virtually walk-through the experience before beginning their treatment,” said program visionary Sarah Hoffe, M.D., Moffitt Cancer Center’s section head of Gastrointestinal Radiation Oncology.

“This summer we explored using gamification and virtual reality to improve patient relaxation and stillness while undergoing tightly-focused and targeted MRgRT,” continued Dr. Hoffe. “We started exploring how to train patients to control their breathing with Ringling College VR Interim Department Head Morgan Woolverton, VR Faculty Marty Murphy, VR Program Advisor Jeff Hazelton, and the VR Program student chosen for this application development, Joseph Janssen. We collaborated on this project with many faculty and staff at Moffitt as well, including Ted Schilowitz who is a member of our national Board of Advisors and also a futurist at Paramount Pictures in Hollywood and our physicist Kujtim Latifi PhD. Importantly, we also benefited from our two patient advisors whose insights were critical to development.”

“We worked with Dr. Hoffe and the team to identify areas in which VR could make a significant difference in improving treatment outcomes, and one we focused on was how to train patients to hold their breath and be still and calm during an MRI Linear Accelerator cancer treatment,” said Ringling College Virtual Reality Development senior Joseph Janssen.

“As the patient breathes in and out during MRI radiation therapy, a tumor and surrounding healthy tissues can shift in position, so it’s very important to encourage patient stillness and train them in holding their breath during the beam activity. To make the tech applicable to all, especially patients unfamiliar with VR, we gamified the process and simplified the control inputs so that one controller is fastened to their chests – to monitor breathing – and the patient uses the integral headset laser to select simplified menu options to explore the mechanics and train in the breathing game. And, while undergoing treatment they are also able to choose from calming scenarios we developed to assist in relaxation during the breath-holding period,” Joseph concluded.

At Moffitt, digital care has been a cornerstone of the institution’s mission to put patients first.

“Leveraging virtual reality to enhance the patient experience while also delivering cutting-edge patient care is perfectly in line with the goals of Moffitt’s new Center for Digital Health, said Moffitt Chief Digital Officer Edmondo Robinson MD, MBA. Digital health innovations should be hyper-focused on solving the most pressing challenges in health care by elevating the patient experience, accelerating clinical research, and delivering cutting-edge clinical care, often right at the fingertips of the patients. Virtual reality is quickly emerging as one of the most promising technologies to help realize the potential to accelerate health care delivery and research and will continue to drive digital health innovation into the future.”

“Based on the success of our first project together, the future of our Moffitt/Ringling collaboration is bright,” said Dr. Hoffe. “Being able to collaborate with some of the most innovative VR faculty and students in the world opens up many exciting new possibilities for improving the patient experience. Our team was thrilled with the level of talent and professionalism of Joseph Janssen, who is a true innovator in this space. We look forward to continuing this exploration of the intersection of VR with the cancer patient journey and hope to expand this work further so that our patients can virtually receive care before they do so in real life. We believe by offering them a virtual journey first we can decrease their fear and anxiety and ensure they are optimally prepared for their treatment experience.”

“I am continually impressed with the capabilities and creativity of our students when presented with challenging projects like our INDEX partnership with Moffitt Cancer Center,” said Ringling College of Art and Design President Dr. Larry R. Thompson. “Working with visionaries like Dr. Hoffe allows our students to gain professional experience within their chosen disciplines and truly explore myriad paths to future fulfilment and success. We thank the entire Moffitt team for continuing to work with our students and staff in addressing their challenges and look forward to future results from this program.”

One of the most exciting parts of Ringling College is our commitment to engaging students with professional opportunities,” stated Morgan Woolverton, Interim Department Head, Game Art, and Virtual Reality Development, Ringling College of Art and Design. Without this real-time "rubber meeting the road," students are not necessarily challenged to their full potential. The creativity exercised in real-world constraints is robust, considered, and often a more compelling solution than left without restrictions. When our students graduate, they exhibit this professional grit because of this commitment. The collaboration with Moffitt Cancer Center is a perfect expression of these goals.”

The Ringling College INDEX program is an experiential education initiative that provides students the opportunity to gain industry experience prior to graduation by connecting them with leading brands and clients to develop creative solutions to business challenges. INDEX is designed to enhance the quality of student learning at Ringling College by providing professional experiences that allow students to build their portfolios, strengthen their resumés, and acquire confidence and familiarity with professional best practices.

About Moffitt Cancer Center
Moffitt is dedicated to one lifesaving mission: to contribute to the prevention and cure of cancer. The Tampa-based facility is one of only 51 National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Centers, a distinction that recognizes Moffitt’s scientific excellence, multidisciplinary research, and robust training and education. Moffitt’s expert nursing staff is recognized by the American Nurses Credentialing Center with Magnet® status, its highest distinction. With more than 7,500 team members, Moffitt has an economic impact in the state of $2.4 billion.

About Ringling College of Art and Design
Since 1931, Ringling College of Art and Design has cultivated the creative spirit in students from around the globe. The private, not-for-profit, fully accredited college offers the Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in eleven disciplines and the Bachelor of Arts in two. The College’s rigorous curriculum employs the studio model of teaching and immediately engages students through a comprehensive program that is both specific to the major of study and focused on the liberal arts. The Ringling College teaching model ultimately shapes students into highly employable and globally aware artists and designers.