Using virtual reality to test new treatments in real world situations

Research details

  • Type of funding: Fight for Sight Small Grant Award
  • Grant Holder: Dr Jenny Bosten
  • Institute: University of Sussex
  • Region: South East
  • Start date: March 2016
  • End Date: October 2019
  • Priority: Early detection
  • Eye Category: All


New treatments for improving eyesight in people with severely reduced vision need to be rigorously tested in clinical trials. An important part of deciding whether a potential treatment works is finding out whether it helps people do their everyday tasks that depend on vision.

Until now, this type of visual ability has mainly been assessed using questionnaires, but they can give variable results. There are also several tests in which people are given timed tasks to complete, such as searching for an object or finding their way along a given route while avoiding obstacles. However, these are very expensive, time-consuming and are not practical for large-scale clinical trials.  

So the team is looking at new virtual reality (VR) technology for a solution. They want to create tests that can make it easier to find out whether new treatments improve people’s day-to-day vision. To do this, they are making virtual environments that mimic daily life. The environments are viewed through a VR headset.

Within the virtual environments, they test practical skills such as searching for objects, getting around obstacles, recognising clocks, recognising symbols used on information signs and understanding gestures. If a new treatment means people get better at doing these tasks, then we know that the treatment improves their vision in a way that will actually help them in the real world.