Receiving a cancer diagnosis is devastating at any age but as a child it is particularly hard. The fear, uncertainty and loneliness are amplified and the lack of age-appropriate information makes coming to terms with the news even harder.
Children, faced with a cancer diagnosis, embark on a journey that will include complex and often scary technological treatments, difficult medical procedures, a confusing ‘army’ of clinical professionals and a host of unfamiliar environments, where treatment often involves multiple centres.
Dom Raban, Xploro co-founder, knows all of this from first-hand experience as his daughter, Issy, was diagnosed with Ewings Sarcoma when she was just 13 years old. Thankfully she’s now 8 years cancer free but when she was ill nobody told her what to expect and that left her feeling scared, anxious and alone. She was resistant to treatments because their purpose wasn’t explained to her and she was scared to go in to hospital because she didn’t know what to expect.
Dom realised that this lack of information for children could negatively impact health outcomes so that’s why his company have spent the last four years developing Xploro, a Digital Therapeutics platform that uses augmented reality, games and artificial intelligence to deliver health information to young patients, reducing the stress and anxiety associated with hospitalisation, improving health literacy and fostering better engagement with health services.
Why are you raising money?
When Issy was going through her treatment Dom and his wife were totally focused on her care. Of course they were, but Issy has a brother who's 20 months younger than her and his needs sometimes had to come second.
We know from personal experience and from the research evidence that siblings of children going through treatment for serious illnesses experience a lot of emotions, including fear and anxiety, anger, jealousy, resentment, loneliness, guilt, sadness and grief. We can help children avoid some of these feelings by giving them age-appropriate information about their brother or sister's treatment, by providing a way for them to keep in touch with their brother or sister whilst they're away from home and by giving them space to express themselves.
We want to use your money to develop new content within Xploro so that siblings can benefit from Xploro in the same way as their sick brother or sister.
What is Xploro, exactly?
On first interaction with the app, the child creates and customises an avatar that becomes their friend and ally through their healthcare journey. They can customise the avatar so that it reflects their current circumstances. They can even see their avatar in the real world using augmented reality.
The avatar guide introduces the child to each of the staff roles they’re likely to encounter and the patient can customise these so that they represent their own medical team.
No visit to hospital is complete without coming in to contact with complex and often scary technology. In Xploro technologies such as MRI, ultrasound, proton beam therapy and CT scans are introduced using interactive experiences that explain the full treatment pathway.
Hospital environments such as wards and operating theatres can be explored using interactive 3D augmented reality models, and provides an experience much like playing with The Sims.
We’re also using games to familiarise children with medical concepts, such as how Leukemia is treated or how a proton beam works. One of the issues Dom became aware of when his daughter was going through treatment is that a hospital bed can be a very lonely place. Despite the fact that you are sharing a ward with other children the opportunities to connect and interact with others are limited. We are trying to break down some of these barriers by creating a connection through multi-player gaming.
Having a sense of what’s going to happen during the day is also really important in hospital so we’ve built a child-friendly calendar that integrates with hospital systems. The child can record how they feel about events and this is played back to clinicians via our management portal.
Our Avatar Guide also acts as an artificially intelligent chatbot, which can answer a wide range of questions, ranging from medical questions like ‘what is CAR-T therapy?’ through to more functional questions like ‘when’s my next visitor coming?’ or ‘what’s the wifi code’.
To do this we’ve built our own patent-pending AI system from the ground up, specifically with the needs of young patients in mind. Our unique spellchecker uses synthetic phonics to understand the ways in which children misspell words.
We're starting with children with cancer but our aim is to build a health information platform for any patient, of any age, with any condition, anywhere in the world.
Does Xploro work?
In short, Yes! Our research partners, led by Professor Lucy Bray (Professor of Child Health Literacy at Edge Hill University) have conducted a clinical evaluation at Royal Manchester Children’s Hospital. The research involved 80 children and the team found that those children with access to the app showed a statistically significant reduction in procedural anxiety and statistically significant increases in knowledge of procedures and patient satisfaction. You can read the research paper on the Journal of Medical Internet Research.
How will you spend my money?
If we can raise £7,500 that will allow us to:
- change our subscription model so that when a health organisation gives a parent access to Xploro, the parent receives licenses for all their children, not just the child that is sick.
- extend and modify our chatbot so that it is capable of answering questions that siblings commonly ask (we're getting help from clinicians in the US who have specialist expertise in this area)
- share calendars so that siblings know what's coming up for their brother or sister
- allow siblings to keep in touch by playing multi-player games with each other
If we can raise another £30,000 then we can do some really special things including:
- allow siblings' avatars to interact with each other in augmented reality, exchanging hugs and emojis
- allow siblings to visit each other's avatar bedrooms, leave virtual gifts for each other and short messages on a virtual blackboard
- create an emoji-based messaging system
- add notifications so that siblings always know when their brother or sister has an event coming up
Your donation, however big or small, will help us make a real difference and remember, although Xploro is based in the UK, you can give from anywhere in the world using Visa and Mastercard.
Who are you?
The Xploro team is headed up by Dom Raban (Issy's dad) and his co-founder Dan Taylor and is a spin-out from the digital innovation agency, Corporation Pop, which Dom and Dan founded in 2007. Dr Peter-Marc Fortune, who is Associate Clinical Director at Royal Manchester Children's Hospital is our Clinical Consultant.
Perhaps the most important members of our team are our Expert Advisory Board, a group of 12 children aged between 8 and 18 (including two sets of siblings). They are always on hand to tell us what is and what isn't working and come up with great ideas for new features.
I want to know more…
Find out more about Xploro on our website
And please ask us as many questions as you like by using the Contact project link above.
Xploro is a finalist in the Healthcare category this year's Abilitynet Tech4Good Awards. With your help we could also be in with a chance of winning the Tech4Good People's Award for the best crowdfunding campaign!