Simba Nyazika (pictured) has a vision to create a future with no mental health impairments. The CEO of Lenica Research Group believes one of the ways to achieve this vision involves harnessing virtual reality technologies to address mental and cognitive health. In 2018, when one of the rehabilitation hospitals in Edmonton showed interest in developing a new virtual reality tool for stroke rehabilitation, Lenica turned to Alberta Innovates for critical support.

"We applied to Alberta Innovates, and they provided the funding to develop this high-value product," says Nyazika, who in 2017 founded the Edmonton startup that focuses on creating new software tools to improve brain function.

A year later, Nyazika's company has created RehabVR, a virtual reality-based therapy tool for patients recovering from stroke or other brain injuries. Using an Oculus Go virtual reality headset, the program engages patients in a game-like experience with specific tasks designed to improve attention, working memory and problem solving.

"RehabVR is one of the first to use virtual reality technology in a rehabilitation program targeting patients with brain injuries," says Nyazika of the tool developed in collaboration with healthcare professionals and Mammoth XR, a virtual reality studio in Calgary. Throughout the project, Alberta Innovates provided business coaching.

Since February, RehabVR has been undergoing patient trials at the Edmonton hospital. When trials are completed this fall, the pilot could pave the way for a new therapy tool that's flexible, fully immersive and offers significant cost savings to patients and hospitals. It will also add to the company's growing product offerings, which also include Cognilit, a brain training program for athletes.

It's an exciting time for Lenica. As they wait for the results of the patient trials, Nyazika and his team are working on new projects, such as a new healthcare database that will integrate the company's cognitive training programs. This database is part of Lenica's vision of developing a tool for early detection of different mental conditions.

"What we're trying to do here could potentially be very beneficial to not only Albertans but all Canadians."