Third Eye Neurotech and Newcastle University break fresh ground for people with autism

Immersive VR is playing a key role in the provision of NHS services to help treat anxieties and phobias.
By Piers Ford
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Third Eye NeuroTech’s Blue Room immersive virtual reality (VR) technology is in the spotlight following the publication of research which revealed its effectiveness in treating phobias and anxieties for children and adults.

The Blue Room was developed by specialists at Newcastle University in the UK in tandem with the Durham-based tech firm and has been made available as an NHS treatment through the Complex Neurodevelopmental Disorders Service at Northumberland Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust.

It allows the creation of a personalised 360-degree big-screen virtual environment around a specific fear or scenarios that might debilitate the person with autism in real life. Working with a therapist, the patient investigates and navigates these scenarios using iPad controls so that they are always in complete control of the situation. No goggles are required.

Research conducted by the Institute of Neuroscience at Newcastle University in a randomised control trial discovered that with Blue Room treatment, 40% of children treated showed improvement at two weeks, and 45% at six months. Phobias encountered during the trial included travelling on public transport, school classrooms, dogs and balloons.

In a separate trial, the Blue Room treatment was offered to autistic adults. Eight participants were given four 20-minute sessions. Six months later, five of them reported ongoing improvements in relation to their phobia.

“People with autism can find imagining a scene difficult, which is why the Blue Room is so well-received,” said Dr Morag Maskey, a researcher from the Institute of Neuroscience at Newcastle University. “We are providing the feared solution in a controlled way through virtual reality and we are sitting alongside them to help them learn how to manage their fears.”

What’s the impact

The Blue Room has allowed Northumberland Tyne and Wear NHS Trust to extend treatment and therapies to UK families, reinforcing its reputation as a pioneering centre for autism services.

Dr Rajesh Nadkami, executive medical director at the Trust, said: “We are proud to be a partner of the Newcastle Blue Room treatment, which is helping people with autism to manage their anxiety. The Trust has a strong track record in providing nationally recognised autism services, and we welcome this new research demonstrating the positive effects of this highly innovative treatment.”

What’s the trend

Alongside the NHS Service, the university team are continuing further research into the effectiveness of Blue Room treatment, including investigations into why some people don’t respond to it.

On the record

Third Eye NeuroTech director Eddie Nelson said: “It is rare as a business that we get the chance to help young people and their families in such a dramatic and tangible way. But what we see with the Blue Room is very anxious young people and adults coming in, yet within four of these specialised sessions they come out having combatted their fears.”