Medical Centre granted $3.5 million to study diabetes education in Second Life

Draxtor Despres pointed me towards Second Life shows new promise as virtual forum for diabetes education, an article written by Nidhi Subbaraman for the technical section of the Boston Globe’s on-line edition.

In it, Ms Subbaraman reports on a Boston Medical Centre trial which utilised Second Life to help diabetes sufferers better manage their condition, and which has paved the way for an even more in-depth examination of the use of virtual world environments in matters of personal healthcare.

Nidhi Subbaraman writing in the Boston Globe about Diabetes studies using Second Life
Nidhi Subbaraman writing in the Boston Globe about diabetes studies using Second Life

The trial was initiated by  2009 by Dr. Suzanne Mitchell, a family physician at Boston Medical Centre and assistant professor at the Boston University School of Medicine. The intent was to investigate whether and how virtual group sessions held in Second Life might help diabetes sufferers made changes to their eating habits and lifestyles to better manage their illness.

In particular, the trial involved African-American women, many from low-income families and / or holding down busy jobs. This demographic was specifically targeted because the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office indicates that a quarter of African-American women over age 55 have type 2 diabetes, which is a significantly high percentage.

Half of the study participants attended hospital classes to help them cope with their condition, the other half were provided with computers and modems and shown how to access Second Life and attend classes in-world. As Ms. Subbabaman notes:

Some days the virtual group “met” at the Second Life BMC classroom, but the group also took field trips into the on-line world. Once, the course leaders led a session on diet and explained how slow, mindful eating was one way to control portions and manage diet. The participants found that when their avatars sat down to eat at the cafeteria location, their utensils moved very slowly, echoing the lesson. Another time the group met at an exercise facility within Second Life, where participants could try out the treadmill or exercise bikes, or take a swim.

Not only did the trial reveal the participants attending virtual activities faired at least as well as those attending regular hospital classes, it also showed that they formed friendships and their own support network, swapping recipes, and trying to encourage friends to join them in-world as well. Most interestingly of all, the study suggested that those participating in the virtual aspect of the study reported exercising more than the group that met in class, suggesting the virtual experience might result in lasting lifestyle changes.

This isn’t the first time that activities in Second Life and virtual environments like it have been shown to have a positive impact on people’s lifestyle choices. In 2012, for example, I reported on a study led by Dr. Elizabeth Behm-Morawitz at the University of Missouri which showed that people who have a strong sense of self-presence with their avatar enjoy an improved self-image and took better care of themselves health-wise, and tended to enjoy better relationships with others.

Dr. Suzanne Mitchell
Dr. Suzanne Mitchell

However, as Ms. Subbabaman reports, the work carried out by Dr. Mitchell and her colleagues has now resulted in the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) awarding them a US $3.5 million grant to finance a further 5-year study into how the use of Second Life can help people diagnosed with diabetes better manage their condition.

“We know that in order to actively participate as partners in healthcare, patients with diabetes need self-management support,” Dr. Mitchell said in a BMC press release announcing the grant and the study. “What is remarkable about this study is we’ll be educating and interacting with some of the patients, and they’ll be interacting with each other, all through group visits in a virtual world.”

As with the initial trial, participants will be placed in either the control group (classroom education) or asked to join Second Life. Those involved in the Second life element of the study will not only be monitored to see how participation in in-world group session helps them better understand their condition, but also how the relationship with their avatar in general has an impact on their self-care and willingness to undertake lifestyle changes.

In this Dr. Mitchell and her colleagues are very keen to chart what is called the “Proteus Effect”. This is a term coined by Nick Yee in his 2014 book, The Proteus Paradox: How Online Games and Virtual Worlds Change Us– and How They Don’t to define the increasingly complex relationship we have with our digital Doppelgängers, and how it can have a profound and often positive effect on us (also see my article from January 2014).

The Proteus Effect was very much in evidence during the original BCM trial, and was also the effect noted by Dr. Elizabeth Behm-Morawitz’s study, so Dr. Mitchell is keen to explore how deeply it may affect and benefit people afflicted with diabetes.

Currently, it is estimated that some 387 million people globally live with diabetes, and the World Health Organisation estimates that the disease could be the 7th leading cause of death by 2030. given this, studies like the one announced by Dr. Mitchell and her colleagues could offer important new insights into the ways and means by which virtual world environments could encourage better self-management for the disease.

What’s more, it is possible the results of this study could be applicable to helping people better manage a range of long-term illnesses and conditions for themselves and alongside of medical support.  As such, it will be interesting to see how this study progresses, and I very much hope that I’ll be able to carry further updates on the study in the future.

Further Reading

Don’t forget that 2015 marks the first Team Diabetes season in Second Life, raising money in support of  the American Diabetes Association. In particular, November 2015 will see the Art in Hats event, which will lead up to World Diabetes Day. on November 14th. I’ll have up-to-date news on activities occurring throughout Art in Hats in due course.

2015 viewer release summaries: week 43

Updates for the week ending Sunday, October 25th

This summary is published every Monday, and is a list of SL viewer / client releases (official and TPV) made during the previous week. When reading it, please note:

  • It is based on my Current Viewer Releases Page, a list of all Second Life viewers and clients that are in popular use (and of which I am aware), and which are recognised as adhering to the TPV Policy. This page includes comprehensive links to download pages, blog notes, release notes, etc., as well as links to any / all reviews of specific viewers / clients made within this blog
  • By its nature, this summary presented here will always be in arrears, please refer to the Current Viewer Release Page for more up-to-date information.

Official LL Viewers

  • Current Release version: no change  download page, release notes
  • Release channel cohorts (See my notes on manually installing RC viewer versions if you wish to install any release candidate(s) yourself):
    • Quick Graphics RC viewer updated to version on October 19 – provides the new Avatar Complexity options and the new graphics preset capabilities for setting, saving and restoring graphic settings for use in difference environments / circumstances (download and release notes)
  • Project viewers:
    • No updates.

LL Viewer Resources

Third-party Viewers


  • Alchemy updated to version on October 25th – core updates: parity with LL 3.8.5 code base, new skinning capability, libcurl 7.45.0, boost 1.59 – release notes


Mobile / Other Clients

  • No Updates.

Additional TPV Resources

Related Links

Space Sunday: from the Sun to Charon, and the death of a planet

Astrophotographer Mia Stålnacke caught this aurora display over Kiruna, Sweden, in March 2015
Astrophotographer Mia Stålnacke caught this aurora display over Kiruna, Sweden, in March 2015

The Sun is the only star we can directly observe in detail. As such, it has been the subject of study for a long time, significantly so since the birth of the space age. As such, you’d think we know pretty much all there is to know about it; but the fact is that the Sun still has many mysteries – and surprises – of its own awaiting understanding and discovery.

One of these mysteries has been strange particle emissions rich in helium-3. These don’t form part of the more familiar coronal mass ejections (CMEs), which can have an elevated impact on Earth magnetosphere giving rising to more energetic aurorae, or with collimated X-ray flares. The cause of these helium-3 rich outbursts has until now been hard to trace because in order to be detected by the Advanced Composition Explorer (ACE) craft which is designed to study such energetic particles, they have to originate very close to the Sun’s limb, making any associated events hard to observe.

A look at the Sun’s right limb on January 26, 2010. Within the marked red square, a large-scale blast wave travels through the Sun’s atmosphere. These images were obtained with the help of NASA’s STERO A probe and show the Sun’s atmosphere in extreme ultraviolet light.
A look at the Sun’s right limb on January 26, 2010. Within the marked red square, a large-scale blast wave travels through the Sun’s atmosphere. These images were obtained with the help of NASA’s STEREO A probe and show the Sun’s atmosphere in extreme ultraviolet light.

However, on October 13th, two teams of scientists working independently of one another, but using the same data and images gathered from NASA’s STEREO solar observation vehicle and the Earth-orbiting ACE platform, announced they had pin-pointed the cause of the outbursts. They are the result of huge explosions occurring in the Sun’s atmosphere, which in turn create gigantic atmospheric shock waves in the Sun’s atmosphere which can extend over half a billion kilometres (300,000 miles) and advance at speeds of 300 km (190 mi) per second. It is believed the sheer speed of the shock waves from these explosions is sufficient to accelerate  the helium-3 (itself produced as a part of the overall fusion process in the Sun’s core), into a stream of particles thrown off into space.

While it has been confirmed the initial explosions are not related to CMEs or sunspots or other known solar phenomena, the precise reason for the explosions themselves has yet to be determined.

Charon Revealed

Images and data returned by the New Horizons space vehicle at the start of October have provided more details about Pluto’s companion, Charon, revealing it to be an even more fascinating world than had been anticipated.

Charon as revealed in the highest resolution images yet returned of that tiny world by New Hotizons (image: NASA/JPL / JHUAPL / SwRI)
Charon as revealed in the highest resolution images yet returned of that tiny world by New Horizons (image: NASA/JPL / JHUAPL / SwRI)

The images, captured in black and white by the probe’s LORRI camera, have been combined with images and data gathered by the RALPH suite of instruments to present a beautiful full-colour image of almost all of one face of Charon, as seen by New Horizons as it swept through its closest approach to both Charon and Pluto on July 14th, 2015.

Some 1,214 kilometres (753 miles) in diameter, Charon is about half the size of Pluto, and was only discovered in 1978.  Quite how it formed has been the subject of much debate. Prior to New Horizons’ visit, the most popular theory was that Charon coalesced from the debris of a collision between Pluto and another Kuiper belt object. However, New Horizons has so far failed to return any images of Pluto that hint at such a collision, and the make-up of the two worlds is less similar than might be expected were one the offshoot of the other. So the theory gaining ground now is that both bodies were already formed when they fell into orbit around one another.

A comparison of the Moons of Pluto as images by New Horizons, and their relative size
A comparison of the Moons of Pluto as images by New Horizons, and their relative size

The latest images of Charon reveal a striking world, every bit as varied as Pluto, and marked by a massive series of fractures across its midriff, suggesting a massive upheaval in Charon’s past which split open its crust. The southern hemisphere also has a more youthful appearance than the region north of the fracture, suggesting that widespread resurfacing took place following the event, and that cryovolcanism (ice volcanoes) may today be contributing to maintaining the relatively smooth appearance of Charon’s southern regions. So like Pluto, Charon may still be an active world.

Continue reading “Space Sunday: from the Sun to Charon, and the death of a planet”