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Rescape are challenging the prevalence of opioids for pain relief by championing distraction therapy for pregnant mothers and other patients in pain. Experts in content creation, they are turning their expertise towards the medical sector to create psychological escapes with long lasting effects. We talked to Kevin Moss, CTO, to find out more.

What is the big idea?

Rescape’s twelve person team is composed of developers with backgrounds in content creation. Motivated by the prior success of a collaboration with Velindre Cancer Centre they had already successfully launched DR.VR using VR to reduce pain and anxiety. Inspired by the visionaries they came across at a Virtual Medicine health conference they decided to extend their mission to relieve pain and anxiety through Virtual Reality (VR) into the Maternity Ward.

Based on growing research that immersive experiences can decrease the intensity of physical pain, Rescape’s £50,000 grant from Clwstwr (the Creative Cluster based in Wales) focussed on building calming virtual worlds for mothers giving birth. Key to their design are distraction therapy (using calming sensory stimuli to distract patients from painful medical experiences) and biofeedback (sensors secured to fingers to measure the heart rate variability).

What is the technology behind it?

For the software, Rescape produced three different calming VR experiences that patients could access through headsets: a peaceful visual of flying with flocking starlings; a visualisation of a waterfall; and a set of landscapes which rise and fall according to the user’s heart rate.

As Kevin described, “we wanted to create spaces to be in, not just things to look at…We also hope to reduce procedural pain to decrease the necessity of opioid use after medical procedures. There is an epidemic in the use of opioids worldwide, and we want to change that narrative.”

For the hardware, Rescape has a partnership with Pico, a B2B Chinese headset company. Pico’s caution about infection control means that the headsets are designed well for a medical environment, and the straps are easily cleansed.

How do Rescape know there is a market for this?

Kevin explains that “as a team, we are out talking to clinicians all the time. We were approached by several maternity teams who were interested in buying our previous generic VR product, DR.VR, and were interested in how it could work for them.”

Kevin also cites the profound influence that patients advocating for VR treatment has had on the team. He cites an inspiring talk by lupus patient (and patient advocate) Kay Smith, about how VR has helped her cope with pain. Her experience has been a motivating source of inspiration.

What support has the Creative Cluster provided?

Aside from the funding, Clwstwr provided a lot of “in kind” support to help develop the work, assigning to the project Clwstwr Co-Investigator Gareth Loudon, a Professor at Cardiff Metropolitan University specialising in creativity, play and innovation with a focus on user-centered design. Clwstwr Producer, Sally Griffith has also supported the Rescape team throughout the project. Kevin explains how critical the Clwstwr support has been: “they really understand how R&D works, and its remit. They recognised that failure is ok, and gave us the freedom to explore and come up with our own solutions. I felt like we were really listened to, and that they truly wanted us to be more creative and to utilise our time better.”

What challenges did Rescape experience along the way?

Covid-19 presented barriers during the prototype’s testing phase. Kevin explains that they would have also worked with Cardiff University more if not for the pandemic, and it was not always straightforward to access maternity wards.

Taming the project brief was also a challenge. Kevin says, “the ideas of working with heart rate variability and maternal wellbeing had great scope, and our initial research idea was too big. But the Creative Cluster really helped to focus our thoughts.”

What will happen next?

The prototype product was completed in April 2020 and needs six months further development to get it to market as a medical device. As a Clwstwr-funded project, Rescape will continue to access events, knowledge sharing and training including expertise on commercial development.

The biofeedback work has unlocked new possibilities for Rescape. The team have committed to another eight month research project and have won another grant to further their work in the field of bio-feedback. Last summer, they completed a crowdfunding exercise. This raised just short of half a million pounds.

The next phase will be seeing how to better deploy their products to where they are most needed. “Our future?” says Kevin, “It’s to be an industry leader, and show how VR is having a hugely positive effect in hospitals.”

Kevin Moss, CTO at Rescape Innovation, has over 20 years of digital experience managing multidisciplinary teams, founding and exiting digital startups. He has been at the forefront of technology working in digital product development, game and video creation and innovation marketing.