media release

Virtual farm game to help young cancer patients deal with treatment

May 19, 2016

Henry Lo,
Janice Ng,
Diane Gromala, 778.688.8340;
Marianne Meadahl, University Communications, (to help arrange interviews) 778.782.9017;


A virtual reality game that helps youths deal with cancer treatment —created by two Simon Fraser University students who spent time in hospital as youths, one as a cancer patient—is the latest pain management tool being developed in SFU’s Pain Studies Lab.

Henry Lo and Janice Ng, students in SFU Surrey’s School of Interactive Arts and Technology, call the game Farmooo. It will be tested later this spring at B.C. Children’s Hospital, where the students have been connecting with medical staff.

Inspired by such games as Pain Squad, Farmville (a 2D farm simulation) and Gardening Mama, the pair tailored their game to the special needs of patients, who can conduct physical tasks in the virtual farm by using simple hand movements. The game is aimed at 12 to 18-year-olds and is run on a screen that plays at 70 frames per second to prevent dizziness.

Lo was diagnosed with lymphoma while a Grade 11 student at Surrey’s Fraser Heights Secondary School, after developing sudden difficulties with walking and breathing.  He required immediate treatment, including chemotherapy.

 “I was quite suddenly needing to be in the hospital for extended periods, and realized that those can be long days for kids,” says Lo, who hopes to develop games and software to speed up medical procedures and eliminate discomfort for patients and families. Ng, who also spent many hours in hospital with ear ailments, hopes to do similar work.

SIAT Professor Diane Gromala, the pair’s supervisor, says the game is the latest in the lab’s efforts to develop virtual reality (VR) approaches that address health care issues.

 “The team wanted to do something that offers benefits and meaningful values for the game and VR industry,” says Gromala, who is also working with VR companies in Seattle and at Stanford University and designing VR games for kids at Boston Children’s Hospital.

“Through their research, the students discovered that most pain research has involved adults rather than teenagers and youths. As Henry learned first-hand, after harsh chemotherapy treatments, patients often experience pain and boredom when they are stuck in bed, where discomfort can be more extreme at a younger age.”

Gromala holds a Canada Research Chair in Computational Technologies for Transforming Pain at SFU, and is a VR pioneer who has spent nearly 25 years creating systems to address acute, chronic and cancer pain. She recently received a Hecht Foundation grant worth more than $150,000 to further study VR as an additional measure for pain control in cancer survivors.

About Simon Fraser University

As Canada's engaged university, SFU is defined by its dynamic integration of innovative education, cutting-edge research and far-reaching community engagement. SFU was founded 50 years ago with a mission to be a different kind of university—to bring an interdisciplinary approach to learning, embrace bold initiatives, and engage with communities near and far. Today, SFU is Canada’s leading comprehensive research university and is ranked one of the top universities in the world. With campuses in British Columbia’s three largest cities – Vancouver, Burnaby and Surrey – SFU has eight faculties, delivers almost 150 programs to over 35,000 students, and boasts more than 135,000 alumni in 130 countries around the world.



Simon Fraser University: Engaging Students. Engaging Research. Engaging Communities.








<p><a href="/content/sfu/sfunews/comment_guidelines.html?keepThis=true&amp;TB_iframe=true&amp;height=700&amp;width=700" class="thickbox">Comment Guidelines</a><br>