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Plugged In

New game helps cancer-stricken children build strength

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Treating a cancer patient is usually done through a regimen of drugs, radiation or surgery. But researchers at the University of Utah have put together a new video game to supplement those scary methods.

Unveiled last week, PE Interactive is a motion-controlled game meant to help kids get through rough treatments by building their physical and mental health and giving them a sense of empowerment.

Hope, not surprisingly, is a major factor in treating patients of any major disease. Hematologist-oncologist Carol Bruggers, who works in pediatric oncology at Primary Children's Medical Center and helped create the game, notes that a study among stroke patients showed those who focused on empowerment techniques made more progress in physical therapy techniques.

"Patients who are more empowered are presumably more likely to be willing to fight their disease and maintain their treatment for a longer period of time," he said.

Bruggers and Grzegorz Bulaj, an associate professor of medicinal chemistry at the University of Utah, created the game in less than a year and are hoping to get it into as many hospitals as possible.

Patients who play PE Interactive (the PE, not surprisingly, stands for patient empowerment) use a PlayStation Move controller to build endurance, physical strength, heart rate and oxygen intake rates.

But all players need to know is that they have to build a wall to protect island villagers from a tsunami (a clever metaphor for patients building up their own immune system). Challenges start off slowly, but require increased activity as the game progresses (and as patients build strength.)

The health benefits of video games have been pretty well known for a while. Just recently, in fact, online gamers helped decipher the structure of an enzyme of an AIDS-like virus that has stumped scientists for 10 years. Still, games themselves are rarely a part of the treatment plan for something like cancer.

PE Interactive isn't the first title to tackle the disease, though. There are a few games on the market to help cancer patients feel empowered against the disease, including Re-Mission, a commercial game that casts players as a nanobot who hunts and eliminates malignant cells throughout a body.

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