You are here

Developing a virtual reality guided acupuncture imagery treatment for Chronic low back pain

Award Information
Agency: Department of Health and Human Services
Branch: National Institutes of Health
Contract: 1R41AT011822-01A1
Agency Tracking Number: R41AT011822
Amount: $140,605.00
Phase: Phase I
Program: STTR
Solicitation Topic Code: NCCIH
Solicitation Number: PA22-179
Solicitation Year: 2022
Award Year: 2023
Award Start Date (Proposal Award Date): 2023-09-19
Award End Date (Contract End Date): 2024-08-31
Small Business Information
Weston, MA 02493-1706
United States
DUNS: 025992722
HUBZone Owned: No
Woman Owned: No
Socially and Economically Disadvantaged: Yes
Principal Investigator
 (617) 726-7893
Business Contact
Phone: (617) 504-2125
Research Institution
BOSTON, MA 02114-2621
United States

 Domestic Nonprofit Research Organization

Project Summary
Low back pain (LBP) is one of the most common reasons for physician visits in the USA. A substantial number
of chronic LBP (cLBP) patients do not adequately respond to current treatment options. Thus, the development
of new treatments for cLBP is urgently needed.
The use of imagery to treat illness, including chronic pain, is one of the oldest medical practices. Although still
under investigation, literature suggests that the brain responds to imagined experience similarly to the way it
responds to actual experience. Acupuncture is an ancient invasive therapeutic method and has been
recommended for treating cLBP by the American College of Physicians. Previous studies have shown that
both the experience of acupuncture needle stimulation and the visualization of acupuncture needle stimulation
can provoke overlapping brain activation, which suggests that visualizing or imagining acupuncture may
achieve therapeutic effects through a brain pathway similar to actual acupuncture treatment.
Combining acupuncture and imagery, the PI (co-founder of Massachusetts Neuro Technology (MNT) and a
research investigator at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH)) and his team developed a new treatment
modality, 2-dimensional (2D) video-guided acupuncture imagery treatment (2D-VGAIT). We found that 2D-
VGAIT can 1) produce an analgesic effect in healthy subjects and 2) produce comparable symptom relief to
real acupuncture after a 1-month (6 treatments) intervention in cLBP patients. Nevertheless, 2D-video is limited
in its ability to simulate real experience. Recently, Virtual Reality (VR) has drawn the attention of researchers.
Studies have shown that VR is a powerful tool for studying body representation and creating perceptual body-
ownership transfer illusions. These unique properties of VR will advance 2D-VGAIT to the next level.
Thus, the aim of this Phase I R41 (STTR) application is to develop a novel mind-body treatment modality /
system (VR-guided acupuncture imagery treatment (VRGAIT)) that leverages the power of VR, imagery, and
acupuncture to enhance the experiential simulation of video-guided acupuncture imagery and reduce chronic
low back pain. Specifically, we will first develop a functional VRGAIT system / platform (prototype) (Aim 1).
Next, we will perform a feasibility study that treats cLBP with the VRGAIT system (Aim 2). This application, if
successful, will provide a cost-effective and easily accessible treatment option for cLBP and other chronic pain
disorders, particularly for those who may have limited access to acupuncture treatment and medical care.

* Information listed above is at the time of submission. *

US Flag An Official Website of the United States Government