ICT project gets €4.8m for virtual reality neurological research

29 Nov 2011

Computer-generated 3D graphics of metropolis scene showing the cobblestoned area of TCD near the library

A Trinity College Dublin-led neurological research project called VERVE, with partners from France, the UK, Italy, Spain and Germany, has been given research funding of €4.8m from the European Commission to progress its neurological research using virtual reality, 3D web graphics and ‘serious’ games.

VERVE is a collaborative EU-wide research project aiming to improve the quality of life for disadvantaged groups, including older people and those with neurological disorders.

Its collaborative partners are in the areas of healthcare and academia.  

The project kick-off meeting took place on 3 October 2011 at TCD. VERVE’s aim is to develop tools to support the treatment of people who are at risk of social exclusion due to fear and apathy associated with ageing or a neurological disorder.

The VERVE consortium will apply leading-edge research to simulate personalised and populated virtual reality (VR) environments, 3D web graphics, and ‘serious’ games as a means of addressing some of the challenges the target groups face.

A variety of clinical, laboratory and industry partners will help design the therapeutic tools and games, and evaluate their usefulness with participants.

The project team will also work with those at risk of social exclusion, as well as their carers, families, health professionals and relevant support organisations, to solicit ideas and feedback, and to promote the project’s aims and achievements.

The VERVE consortium partners are:

  • Chu de Nice: Centre Hospitalier Universitaire de Nice
  • INRIA: Insitut National de Recherche en Informatique et Automatique
  • CNRS: Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (France), Testaluna (Italy)
  • Kainos (UK)
  • Universidad de Zaragoza (Spain)
  • DFKI: Deutsches Forschungszentrum für Künstliche Intelligenz (Germany).

VERVE’s efforts will focus on three situations, each targeting a different group of participants:

  • Fear of falling and Parkinson’s disease
  • Apathy related to cognitive decline and behavioural disturbances, in particular due to Alzheimer’s disease
  • Other emotional disturbances linked to anxiety.  

Although the VERVE crew will focus on these areas initially, the team expects the results of the research will be applicable to a much wider range of potentially disadvantaged individuals.

Trinity’s Graphics Vision and Visualisation (GV2) group

In addition to co-ordinating the project, Trinity’s Graphics Vision and Visualisation (GV2) group, led by Prof Carol O’Sullivan, will build on its Science Foundation Ireland-funded Metropolis project to create novel solutions for clinicians to create compelling scenarios depicting virtual humans, groups and crowds in a personalised virtual city environment.

The Trinity College Institute of Neuroscience (TCIN) researchers Prof Fiona Newell and Prof Richard Reilly will also bring their experiences on the assessment and treatment of falls and frailty, and gait disturbances in Parkinson’s disease, together with senior clinical collaborators, such as the professor of geriatric medicine Rose Anne Kenny in the Falls and Blackout Unit in St James’s Hospital and Prof Tim Lynch in the Dublin Neurological Institute at The Mater Misericordiae University Hospital.

Commenting this morning on the significance and aims of the project, O’Sullivan said the ultimate goal the ICT technologies being developed in VERVE is to increase user ability, allowing older people and those with neurological disorders to overcome their fear, apathy or phobia and carry out daily life activities in a “fulfilling and dignified manner”.

“The key to our success will be the fact that the clinical intermediary users will be actively participating during the development of the ICT tools and platforms, and will thus guarantee that the end result will be usable and accepted by the end users,” said O’Sullivan.

In advance of Dublin City of Science 2012, Siliconrepublic.com is hosting Science November, a month dedicated to news, reports, interviews and videos covering a range of Irish science, research and innovation.

Carmel Doyle was a long-time reporter with Silicon Republic