Fighting cancer as child’s play

SMU Guildhall alumna Joowon Kim and her team created a virtual reality experience to help cancer patients manage their pain and anxiety.

The game screen is dark and creepy, just as a journey through the inner workings of a body would be with all those weird veins and organs floating around. Suddenly, a mocking, one-eyed creature pops into view, bent on destruction. It must be vanquished.

One shot and it is gone. But then there is another. And another.

That's how it is in cancer and video games. The bad stuff just keeps coming.

Which is why two women, one from Texas, one from Belgium, joined forces to come up with an inventive way to let children with cancer visualize the fight going on inside them. Marrying the technology of virtual-reality gaming with medicine, kids can zap pretend rogue cells on their screen while chemotherapy takes on the real ones to save their lives.

"It is self-empowering. Instead of them just being passive and playing a game where they shoot things, it brings their focus back to what is happening to them. It makes it real," said Joowon Kim, a 36-year-old computer scientist and gaming industry veteran.

Korean-born and now living in Houston, Kim is co-founder of a unique start-up called OnComfort that offers virtual reality applications to distract, relax, and educate patients during difficult medical procedures. The products are being developed and readied for market through JLABS @ TMC, a life-sciences business incubator launched earlier this year by Johnson & Johnson and the Texas Medical Center.

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