Back in 2017, I joined an adventurous project being run by Great Ormond Street, The Cystic Fibrosis Trust, University College London – Great Ormond Street Institute of Child Health (UCL GOSICH) and Microsoft, creating the largest collaboration of technical, clinical, and research staff together in a new research project looking into physical treatment for cystic fibrosis.
The aim of the project was to simply ask the following question:
What physiotherapy treatments do children and young people with cystic fibrosis actually use, and is the frequency of doing them related to health outcomes?
It might sound odd, but it’s not actually known if the prescribed treatment is wholly beneficial, or if regular exercise and medication is a better path. It should be, based on current evidence, but it’s not been scientifically proven.
The Fizzyo Project’s goals
Cystic Fibrosis causes a build-up of thick sticky mucus in the lungs, digestive system and other organs, causing a wide range of challenging symptoms affecting the entire body.
The Fizzyo project was created to focus on the breathing exercise treatment a patient undergoes to clear the mucus from their lungs, where they blow long and hard into an airway clearance device in repeated sessions for upwards of 20 to 30 minutes at a time, several times a day. As you can imagine, for any individual this would be very boring. For a child, however, this would seem like an eternity.
For research, the project wants to capture data and feedback to validate the effectiveness of the treatment, finally proving or disproving the effects. Or, better yet, identify ways to improve the exercises and tailor them to each patient for the best effectiveness.
As a secondary effect, we wanted to make these time consuming and sometimes painful exercises more fun, encouraging kids to do them through gaming.
The story so far
It has certainly been an interesting ride to date, from the initial hardware investigations to create a brand new sensor to attach to the airway clearance device (designed to meet medical standards no less) resulting in the sensor you see below:
Like the airway clearance devices themselves, the sensor and connecting parts had to be easy to clean (all CF hardware has to be sterilized after each use to prevent bacterial contamination as CF patients are very susceptible to infection) and rugged. They also had to be as “cheap as possible” to keep down costs should they need to be replaced.
The development framework is built in the Unity Game Engine, gives the games that are being created a common platform to build upon, each stage, hack-a-thon, research stage, and trial opened up new challenges for the framework to handle.
This blog post is a postmortem of the last 3 years of my life, working on an awesome project that aims to improve the treatment of patients with cystic fibrosis, using gamified breathing exercises to help alleviate the pains and boredom involved.
I’ve been thoroughly honoured to be a part of this project and to see the benefits it has brought to many, whilst at the same time gathering research data to further improve treatment in the future.
If you want to see the full details of the Fizzyo project, including the framework, future plans and details of the games themselves, you can do so by checking out the full post on Medium.