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Duke’s virtual reality world tackles diabetes

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DURHAM, N.C. -

Diabetes is an ongoing epidemic in the United State. More than 18 million people have the disease and more than 79 million people are predisposed to it.

November is Diabetes Awareness Month and researchers at Duke University School of Nursing are coming up with innovative ways to help people with diabetes manage their chronic illness.

They invented a virtual reality world to help diabetics make better decisions about their health.

It might look like a video game, but it's a virtual world created for one purpose.

"It's a social network with people who have the same type of diseases," said Constance Johnson, associate professor at Duke University's School of Nursing.

That disease is type 2 diabetes.

"In our virtual world, there's a book store, there's a gym, there's a grocery store, and there's a restaurant," said Johnson.

This virtual world is a pilot study. It gives type 2 diabetic patients a special avatar, one users can use to talk to other people with diabetes. It also helps them manage their diseases.

"If you go into the grocery store and you want potato chips, nutritional information comes out of the potato chips," said Johnson.

Louis Lyons is 72 years old and was part of the pilot study. She said, "I thought it was fun as well as informative."

Lyons said it helps her make smarter choices. Her favorite part, though, is the community.

"I love being in contact with other people similar to me and I found out that a lot of people are worse off than me," said Lyons.

Allison Vorderstrasse is an assistant professor at the Duke School of Nursing. She said, "Right now there are about 25 million people who are affected by it."

Vorderstrasse one of the co-creators of this virtual world and said it's all about a holistic approach to the disease. The hardest part is changing people's habits. This alternative reality tackles just that.

"The part that we were really focused on was how to help people live with it," said Vorderstrasse.

The pilot study showed that virtual reality has the potential to help patients manage their diabetes. As a result of the success of the pilot study, the School of Nursing Researchers were awarded a $3 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to expand their study to 300 participants in the next five years. 

Eileen Park

Eileen joined WNCN after years of working as a foreign correspondent. During her time off, she enjoys relaxing with her dogs, reading, and exploring the Triangle. More>>

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