Dr. Arsenyan, 6th from right, with the rest of the MetaGait team

MetaGait Helps Armenia’s Soldiers One Step at a Time

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YEREVAN — Inspiration for innovation can come from anywhere. For the founder of Metagait, a virtual reality (VR) rehabilitation device, Dr. Davit Arsenyan got his inspiration from, of all areas, video games.

Armenia-based Arsenyan is a kinesiologist, or a doctor who specializes in the mechanics of body movements.

For his entire career, he has been working to assist patients to regain mobility and increase their strength after traumatic incidents. Arsenyan’s idea to create a device which combined physical movement and virtual reality as a method of improving neuromuscular memory came after trying out his friend’s VR game room back in 2016. The game entailed wearing a headset which displayed images of a “virtual reality” of some situation and the use of handheld joysticks/controllers to move around in the game, essentially fully immersive digital world.

At the time, he was working with veterans of the 2016, the 4-day war, specifically soldiers who had faced many traumatic issues affecting both their brains and physical movements. After playing in the game room, Arsenyan invited one of his patients who had limited mobility to join him the next time, thinking it might be a fun and stimulating experience. That patient was suffering from paralysis and could only move one arm, but what happened next when he began playing the video game was nothing short of unbelievable.

“The patient’s damaged arm began to move… and his hand opened and closed,” Arsenyan recalled. It was at that moment he began thinking of the potential to incorporate the virtual reality experience as a supplement to physical therapy. And the science behind this combination is something that has been investigated in applications beyond MetaGait.

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According to Dr. Lusine Poghosyan, who works at the “Support for Wounded Soldiers and Disabled Military” NGO, the use of VR in neurohabilitation therapy is on the rise and is used in tandem with more traditional therapy for a variety of reasons. VR can be used to increase motivation and improve the emotional and psychological component of going through rehabilitation training. A patient can be transformed from their hospital or rehabilitation center to a whole new world through VR, and partaking in such an engaging form of therapy no doubt makes a positive change in their recovery experience.

The physical component of the device simulates walking, by keeping the patient in an upright position, stabilizing their torso, with supports attaching to a patient’s legs and arms. The movement on the device is similar to that of an elliptical machine at a gym.

Arsenyan emphasized that “even the experience of being able to stand and see the surroundings from that height makes such a big difference,” as compared to the typical sedentary, wheelchair-bound perspective many patients with limited mobility have. The device is also used by children with cerebral palsy and brain or spinal cord injuries who have had difficulty walking.

Thus, through the synergy of walking and virtual reality, MetaGait claims to promote the regeneration of nerve centers in the central nervous system that were damaged by the patient’s traumatic incident, “helping the formation of new centers and nerve connections,” per their website.

As of right now, the options for someone using MetaGait range from virtual reality skiing where users can compete with other virtual skiers to partaking in VR tourism to sites such as Tatev Monastery, St. Ghazanchetsots Cathedral, and Lake Sevan. There are plans to expand the selection of games and locations and create more interactive games to promote cyber tourism of Armenia and Artsakh.

Incredibly, almost all of MetaGait is produced in Armenia, and the games are also built by software engineers in the country. The only exception is the VR headset, an Oculus Quest 2, which is imported. The device also has a patent and there are aspirations to eventually sell MetaGait on the international market, which will require further clearance for regulations, standards and other necessary documentation.

In Armenia, however, MetaGait refuses to sell or charge for use of the device. “I can’t imagine selling our device to soldiers and veterans in the country… Perhaps we can sell it abroad to fund the creation of more devices in Armenia, but I don’t see a market here,” Arsenyan explained.

This is where MetaGait’s latest partnership with reArmenia comes in. reArmenia, a collaboration and fundraising platform recently created to bring the diaspora with Armenia and Artsakh, is hosting a fundraiser to raise $150,000 to create more MetaGaits in Armenia and expand access to a broader audience. As of today, there are very few devices in the country and they are in rehabilitation centers or placed in individual patient’s homes, who after receiving treatment return the device such that other individuals in need can also benefit from it. “The device keeps on giving once a patient has recovered, and with the proper finances, we hope to build 35 new devices in an effort to expand access across the country.”

For those interested in donating, the fundraiser page for MetaGait can be found on reArmenia’s website at the following link:https://rearmenia.com/en/fundraisers/metagait?fbclid=IwAR14SP6YqdG7YjBWtto89ZFG5DijMrnzfITEOcCc2rbE1lfKBYNwGNITLOo

 

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