Genomics in society: VR visions for the future
Applying virtual reality (VR) as an experimental research methodology enables consideration of important social and behavioral research questions in step with, and often in advance of, emerging genetic and genomic knowledge.
Although genetics and genomics are well understood in rare disease contexts, their application for precision medicine in a public health context (e.g., for obesity and diabetes prevention) is still an aspiration. VR-based research is able to test the influence of yet anticipated genomics applications in ways that would be logistically impractical or impossible in real-world health settings. We have applied VR in healthcare communication contexts to understand how variation in patient characteristics, provider characteristics, and clinical context influences outcomes of genomics-focused medical encounters. Here, we identify situations where we may risk inciting social stigma or discrimination through genomics integration. Through measurement of parent feeding behavior in a VR-based buffet simulation we have furthermore honed genomics communication approaches for conveying information about children’s adulthood disease risk.
This work aims to provide the needed evidence base to inform future genomic technologies, optimizing them to improve public health.