Groundbreaking research shows that a specially designed video game can promote positive behaviors in young cancer patients that enhance the effectiveness of medical treatment. This research, sponsored by the nonprofit organization HopeLab and published today in the medical journal Pediatrics, provides scientific evidence for a growing field of product development that taps into the positive potential of video games and other popular technology to improve human health.

We have very effective treatments for cancer in adolescents, but they only work if the patient takes them,” said Steve Cole, Ph.D., vice president of research at HopeLab and co-author of the article. “This study shows that a strategically designed video game can be a powerful new tool to enhance the impact of medical treatment by motivating healthy behavior in the patient.

The study evaluated the impact of playing Re-Mission, a video game developed by HopeLab specifically for teens and young adults with cancer, on key behavioral and psychological factors associated with successful cancer treatment. In Re-Mission, players pilot a microscopic robot named Roxxi as she travels through the bodies of fictional cancer patients, blasting away cancer cells and battling the side-effects of cancer and cancer treatments. This study on Re-Mission is the largest randomized, controlled study of a video game intervention ever conducted, following 375 teens and young adults with cancer at 34 medical centers in the United States, Canada and Australia during three months of cancer treatment.

In the study, participants who were given Re-Mission maintained higher levels of chemotherapy in their blood (20%; p=.002) and took their antibiotics more consistently (16%; p=.012) than those in the control group, demonstrating the game’s impact at a biological level. Participants given Re-Mission also showed faster acquisition of cancer-related knowledge (230%; p=.035) and faster increase in self-efficacy (370%; p=.011).

We now know that games can induce positive changes in the way individuals manage their health,” said Dr. Cole. “The game not only motivates positive health behavior; it also gives players a greater sense of power and control over their disease — in fact, that seems to be its key ingredient.

Analyses of study data suggest that patients’ increased sense of control over cancer (self-efficacy) was a major driver of the game’s effect on medical treatment utilization. To better understand how game play delivers the outcomes highlighted in the Pediatrics article, HopeLab conducted a study that utilizes functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) technology to analyze the brain regions that are activated when people play Re-Mission. Data from this research will be presented in Tokyo at the 10th International Congress of Behavioral Medicine August 27 – 30, 2008.

The process to create and evaluate Re-Mission was highly collaborative, often challenging, and an incredible learning experience,” said Pam Omidyar, HopeLab founder and board chair. “The publication of Re-Mission data represents the fulfillment of HopeLab’s founding vision — that rationally engineered technology can be a powerful tool to improve the health of young people.

Other study authors include Pamela M. Kato, Ph.D., Ed.M.; Andrew S. Bradlyn, Ph.D., and Brad H. Pollock, Ph.D., MPH. HopeLab is applying insights gained from the development and study of Re-Mission to inform ongoing work in cancer, as well as innovative approaches to address obesity and other chronic diseases that impact young people.