For severe burn victims, including at least a few from the military, clinical trials are underway for a new treatment process. Snow World is a virtual reality system that lets users walk through wintry environments and lob snowballs at stationary targets. The cool imagery and immersive gameplay are proving in early tests to be a viable alternative to strong drugs that leave patients dazed and disconnected, reports ScienceCentral. Patients report feeling less pain, fMRI scans show a reduction in actual brain signals, and doctors anecdotally noted a wider range of movement from patients in physical therapy sessions.

It's also worth noting that researchers have observed that the more immersed a patient is, the better the results.

“In some ways this is a futuristic step, so we’re taking a first step with the research we’ve done so far, and we’re getting great results already,” Hunter Hoffman, director of the UW’s VR Analgesia Research Center and co-creator of Snow World, told ScienceCentral. “What I’m looking forward to is five or 10 or 15 years from now, the technology that will be available will just be breathtaking, and this will be even better and will be much more widely distributed.”

Even more important, Paul Simon has offered his music for inclusion for free, which Hoffman says "really enhances the effectiveness of the treatment of Snow World for pain distraction."

[via ScienceCentral via Ars Technica]

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