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Automated Virtual Reality (VR) for Needle Fears 

 The hypodermic needle - used to inject substances (e.g., saline, medications, vaccinations) or extract fluids (e.g. blood) in clinical procedures – may be the most important medical device invented. Billions of needles are used worldwide each year. However, a significant minority of the population are very fearful of needles. This can make medical procedures unpleasant. It can also lead to avoidance of vaccination, blood donation and tests, and uptake of treatments. Fear of needles is especially high in children and adolescents. Needle fear can be successfully treated using psychological therapy (graded exposure and applied tension) but because of a shortage of therapists very few people are able to access such help. 

Working with adolescents with needle fears, we have automated the delivery of evidence-based psychological therapy for needle fear within virtual reality (VR). A virtual coach guides users through the therapy. As such, the therapy can be supported by a range of professionals, for example, nurses or school pastoral staff, which can dramatically increase the potential for scalability.  

The work is funded by the Beryl Alexander Charity.


Daniel Freeman (Chief Investigator), Eve Twivy, Jason Freeman, Ly-Mee Yu, Aitor Rovira, Andre Lages Miguel, Rupert Ward, Matthew Bousfield, Felicity Waite, Helen McShane, Andrew Pollard