The USC Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center has teamed with a nonprofit on a virtual reality (VR) initiative for patients in the Adolescent and Young Adult Cancer program at USC (AYA@USC).

The initiative aims to provide a library of curated cinematic and interactive VR experiences using the most advanced media technology available to lessen a patient’s discomfort and anxiety with quality entertainment.

“The AYA@USC program aims to heal the whole person, not just the cancer,” said David Freyer, DO, MS, professor of clinical pediatrics at the Keck School of Medicine of USC and co-director of AYA@USC. “The Virtual Reality Patient Initiative will provide an important emotional benefit to our patients that cannot be achieved through medicine alone.”

The pilot program will begin this fall for a three-month period for both ambulatory outpatients and non-ambulatory inpatients. The nonprofit Springbok Cares will provide the VR equipment, content library and program staff at no cost to USC Norris or the patients. The cancer center’s clinical staff will approve and supervise the use of the equipment to ensure patient safety. Through Springbok Cares’ partnerships with a variety of content providers and sponsors, the program will be financially self-sustaining with an ever-growing curated library.

“In addition to an enriched patient experience, the Virtual Reality Patient Initiative may provide tangible clinical benefits to our young cancer patients,” said James Hu, MD, assistant professor of clinical medicine and co-director of AYA@USC.

Research has demonstrated the benefit of VR technology for a variety of medical, psychological and educational challenges, including reducing side effects and fatigue in cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy treatments. Cancer patients with access to VR experiences had improved emotional well-being and fewer negative psychological symptoms.

“As a parent of a cancer survivor, I am extremely excited to be partnering with USC Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center and Keck School of Medicine on this groundbreaking program,” said Steven-Charles Jaffe, chief operations officer of Springbok Entertainment. “Having lived with my daughter at a hospital during her battle with cancer, I personally know there is a void in healthy escapist entertainment for patients that this program will fulfill. VR technology’s ability to virtually transport a patient out of the confinement of a hospital bed or chemotherapy session is not only beneficial, but critical for a positive patient experience.”

AYA cancers represent all cancer types in individuals who are between 15 and 39 years old. In the United States, cancer is the leading disease-related cause of death for AYA patients. More than 70,000 people in this age group are diagnosed with cancer each year, including more than 4,000 in the Los Angeles area.

— Mary Dacuma