Nathaniel Scher: “Virtual reality and the metaverse will have a considerable impact on health”

Decision makers. What synergies exist between the H. Hartmann Institute of Radiotherapy and Radiosurgery and the Rafaël Institute, the post-cancer center?

Nathaniel Scher. Concretely, while the Hartmann Institute practices conventional medicine, the Rafaël Institute offers integrative medicine. It thus combines traditional treatments, such as radiotherapy, with alternative practices such as art therapy. Thanks to this comprehensive approach, the patient notably improves his tolerance to treatments, his quality of life and can, at times, reduce his use of medication. In addition, he can be followed simultaneously within the two institutes in order to benefit from support, during and even after his illness at the Rafaël Institute. In addition to the synergy between these two establishments, the one that links my two functions within them is due to the various research projects relating to oncology, radiotherapy and integrative health that I lead simultaneously.

Augmented reality is an educational tool for both patients and doctors. Can you tell us about the prospects?

Firstly, augmented reality is a perspective for optimizing the training of caregivers. During their studies, student nurses have only a few practical placements to learn how to examine a patient. With a view to confronting them with all possible scenarios, an immersion, including in a virtual world, represents an opportunity for global training.

Halfway between virtual reality and the metaverse, giving future surgeons the chance to perform their first operations in an artificial system is a real upheaval. In addition, augmented reality could allow the projection of the patient’s anatomy in 3D or the possibility of zooming in on the desired area in order to refine the surgeon’s field of vision.

“An immersion in a virtual world represents a global training opportunity”

A therapeutic aim is also envisaged. This is the case of patients prone to phobias such as vertigo. Today, thanks to a virtual reality headset, they can find themselves on top of tall buildings. In this way, their fears are gradually dealt with. In The Lancetan article notably reports the optimistic conclusions of this cognitive-behavioral therapy.

Still using a virtual reality headset, we imagined an immersion in a first radiotherapy session. As a rule, as this takes place several weeks after the prescription, it promotes anxiety in patients. In order to help them project themselves, the Rafaël Institute has developed a helmet for this purpose with the assistance of Dassault Systèmes. However, although innovative, these different systems are still in their infancy.

Which technological advancements do you think hold the most promise for the healthcare sector?

In my opinion, virtual reality and the metaverse will have a considerable impact on the field of health within the next ten or twenty years. Not only for the education of the patient but also for the training of the medical profession, these advances could impose themselves as revolutions.

However, certain technologies that are already effective are already part of an optimized care process for the patient. In order to reduce the side effects of radiotherapy, the Rafaël Institute and the Hartmann Institute provide infrared light treatments to patients during their sessions. Photobiomodulation by LED, its scientific name, thus tends to attenuate the phenomenon of radio-epithelitis. These skin irritations due to radiation particularly affect people with breast cancer. Similarly, people treated for ENT cancers endure the appearance of kinds of mouth ulcers inducing pain and, consequently, difficulty eating. Very little practiced in France, light therapy is actively proving its worth and some sessions are beginning to be reimbursed by Social Security. Publishing articles on these advances in scientific journals is therefore essential to make this known, and we are committed to sticking to it.

At the same time, the personalization of medicine is gaining more and more momentum. In fact, it is already possible to adapt a treatment to the patient by analyzing the genetic characteristics of his disease.

What healthcare projects do you have in mind for 2022 and beyond?

Whatever the disease and the treatments that lend themselves to it, one of the main objectives of the health sector is to reduce its side effects. With 400,000 new cases of cancer per year in France, some of them will unfortunately have to face a relapse. For these, it is essential to increase the effectiveness of treatments. This is what integrative medicine offers through prevention and parallel care such as refocusing on better eating habits or taking into account the post-illness period. We must make society and Social Security accept the quality of this complementary care so that it is reimbursed in the same way as conventional care.

In addition, for caregivers, the development of artificial intelligence in health embodies a more than decisive decision-making aid. In radiotherapy, we already have the cyberknifean artificial intelligence system capable of following mobile tumors in order to know where to irradiate them, such as lung tumors that move during the respiratory cycle.

Interview by Léa Pierre-Joseph

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Nathaniel Scher: “Virtual reality and the metaverse will have a considerable impact on health”

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