Global funding for virtual reality therapy

Global funding for virtual reality therapy

6 June 2023

Orygen Digital’s virtual reality (VR) program has received a $5.3m grant from UK charitable foundation, Wellcome, to create, trial and implement tailored VR therapy specifically to improve social cognition in young people with early psychosis.

Approximately 64,000 people in Australia are living with a psychotic illness. Among them, nearly two thirds have difficulty with social functioning –  the ability to interact easily and successfully with other people in social situations. 

Project co-lead Professor Andrew Thompson, Director of VR Research, said the VR team was extremely proud to receive the grant: “Being recognised by a very prestigious global funder such as Wellcome, against significant international competition, demonstrates that Australia is in a position to lead the way in evidence-based digital mental health services.”

The funding supports the direct involvement of young people in the therapy design and creation process, a multi-centre trial of the program and development of software and materials to support the adoption of VR therapy in clinical practices.

VR Research Fellow and project co-lead Dr Roos Pot-Kolder said the funding was “incredibly exciting because it will allow us to co-produce virtual reality therapy with young people which is well aligned with both Orygen Digital and Wellcome’s focus on lived experience.”

“We know from rigorous research that VR can be a powerful therapeutic tool for adults. Now we have the opportunity to design treatments specifically for young people – which currently do not exist for improving social cognition in early psychosis.

“And we’ll have the capability to test and implement a VR therapy program which can be rolled out across clinical practices all around the country post-trial,” she said.

The trial, set to run from 2023-2025, aims to build national networks to deliver these cutting-edge therapies at scale around the country, and then internationally.

The trial will:

  • create tailored VR therapy specifically to improve social cognition in young people with early psychosis through their direct involvement in the design and creation process 
  • carry out a multi-centre trial of the VR program across multiple states including partners at Alfred Health, Victoria, the University of Adelaide, South Australia, and Telethon Kids Institute, Western Australia to create a VR therapy program which can be applied nationally 
  • create implementation materials as software, training videos and manuals so the VR therapy can be more easily adopted and accessed in clinical practices. 

The trial includes partners from Alfred Health, Monash University, the University of Adelaide and Western Australia’s Telethon Kids Institute.