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Concordia undergrad student develops an app to ease the anxiety of living with multiple sclerosis

Donya Meshgin is using augmented reality to alleviate the stress of self-administered medication
April 1, 2021
On the left, a young woman with long dark hair. On the right, a hand holding an iphone, with the app MSease open on the phone.
Donya Meshgin: “My friend’s struggles inspired me to find a better way for people to manage their treatment.”

Canada has among the highest global incidence rates of Multiple Sclerosis (MS). It's a debilitating disease with no known cure, though treatment options exist to manage the illness.

Concordia undergraduate student Donya Meshgin, inspired by the struggles of one of her best friends, sought to find a way to better manage treatment for the more than 90,000 Canadians living with MS. That became the focus of her recently published research.

Meshgin is a student in the Real-time, Embedded and Avionics Software program at the Gina Cody School of Engineering and Computer Science. Last year she had a class assignment to improve an existing interface design or create a new design for a problem that does not yet have a solution.

“A couple years back, a dear friend of mine rapidly lost sight in one eye temporarily which led to her diagnosis with MS,” says Meshgin.

“She then started treatment, and I saw firsthand how difficult it was for her to maintain her plan prescribed by her doctor. Her struggles inspired me to find a better way for people to manage their treatment.”

Understanding and addressing injection anxiety

Injections are a common and safer disease-modifying therapy for MS than oral medications, as they have fewer long-term side effects. Unfortunately, they also have several barriers that lead to what is known as injection anxiety.

Computer generated images of a different bodies.

“MS subcutaneous injections consist of self-injecting medicine into the fatty tissue layer between the skin and the muscle. The injections can make a patient’s skin sore, red, itchy and even cause pain,” Meshgin explains.

Injection anxiety is very common in MS patients. An Ontario study found that more than 50 per cent of MS patients discontinued injection therapy within two years of starting.

“The aim of my research is to determine whether an application based on augmented reality (AR) technology can help reduce patients’ injection anxiety and perceived pain during the administration of their medication,” she says.

How it works

Meshgin’s AR application — known as MSease — has three main features and can be easily downloaded on mobile devices.

The first is an injection site overlay grid for image guidance. This allows a user to hover their mobile device over an injection area such as the abdomen, the arms, thighs or buttocks. They then see colour-coded injection site squares over the injection area that allow them to optimize where to inject.

The second component is an animated mascot aimed at providing guided-imagery pain therapy and relief from anxiety during the injection process. The idea is that the visual nature of the 3D mascot will divert the patient’s attention to relieve their stress and relax them.

Finally, the app contains a journal feature used to log symptoms and information, such as the injection’s date and time, selected injection site and necessary needle depth for that area. The journal also allows the user to rate their injection experience.

Promising results

Meshgin tested MSease with one MS patient to assess if their anxiety and pain were reduced. She also had 14 non-MS patients evaluate the interface and usability of the app.

“In the post-study interview with our MS patient, they expressed that the experience with the application helped to significantly reduce their injection anxiety and their perceived pain was reduced in the moment of injection.”

All the users were satisfied with the accessibility, usability and overall usefulness of the app.

What next

“These results are very exciting,” says Marta Kersten-Oertel, assistant professor of computer science and software engineering and Concordia University Research Chair in Applied Perception, who supervised Meshgin’s research.

“To have a student come up with this type of project using AR to practically help people going through a terrible disease is amazing. Our published research on MSease has clinicians excited about how this develops, and we think this could have applications for other diseases such as diabetes.”

Meshgin and Kersten-Oertel have teamed up with neurologists to expand the study, which will provide more data and feedback to improve the app’s overall functionality.

Read the cited study: “
Multiple sclerosis image-guided subcutaneous injections using augmented reality guided imagery,” and find out more about Concordia’s Gina Cody School of Engineering and Computer Science.



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