Milford, Connecticut / Wetteren, Belgium: The National Human Genome Research Institute at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) chose PreviewLabs as a partner to develop a prototype for a VR experience regarding gene-environment interaction (GxE). Commissioned by Dr. Susan Persky’s Communication, Attitudes and Behavior Unit (CABU), the prototype will explore how the impact of genes on various aspects of life can be explained through the use of virtual reality (VR).
What Is GxE?
We inherit our genes from our parents. However, we only see the effect of those genes once they are exposed to an environment. This can be pollution, exposure to violence, access to healthy or unhealthy food, … Without factors like these, genes don’t work. Depending on our genes, everyone reacts differently to such elements. This combination between our genes and our environment is what we call GxE.
About the Prototype
The prototype will be used in a scientific study in which participants will encounter several concrete examples of GxE. These vignettes will highlight the impact of genes on everyday situations, as well as on the long term effects of those genes. With this study, Dr. Persky aims to help people to better understand GxE and the impact on their lives.
“By applying our iterative rapid prototyping process, we will explore multiple ways of portraying specific cases of gene-environment interaction.”, Bernard François, founder of PreviewLabs said. “We have prototyped for different research studies for clients funded by the NIH, so it is an honor to be partnering with the NIH directly this time.”, he added.
For this project, PreviewLabs will utilize the HTC Vive virtual reality headset in combination with a Vive Tracker. “These trackers allow bringing physical elements into VR environments. We will use this to bring a real-world chair into the virtual environment, allowing to experiment with seamless transitions between standing and seated VR experiences – without ever taking off the VR headset”, Bernard explained. “This is something we have not experienced ourselves before, so we’re excited about seeing how this would help maintaining a more consistent level of immersion throughout the experience.”
An archive containing pictures, logos, and illustrations is available for download here.
Bernard Francois: +1 (203) 640-8121
The prototype is being built for the Immersive Virtual Testing Area (IVETA), an experimental behavioral science research laboratory at the NIH Clinical Center. The testing area is home to several collaborations in which innovative technologies, such as immersive virtual reality, are applied to projects that advance knowledge at the intersections of genomics, human behavior and society. The IVETA enables forward-looking research questions and the application of forward-looking methodologies. Work in the IVETA also aims to refine and extend these methodological approaches.
PreviewLabs was founded in 2010 in Belgium as first company dedicated to the development of prototypes with game technology. In 2016, the company’s US branch was established. In 2018, PreviewLabs celebrated its 8th anniversary. In these eight years, PreviewLabs worked on the development of prototypes for over 200 different concepts, for customers ranging from stealth mode startups to larger organizations such as Walt Disney Imagineering and Yale University, and now also the NIH.