VCU VR startup focused on mental health intervention gets NIMH award

June 2023

A VCU startup exploring virtual reality to treat mental health in kids who are at risk of behavioral disorders received $275,000 this spring from the National Institute of Mental Health.

The award is part of what’s known as the NIMH’s R41 program, which gives grants to small businesses to help them establish technical merit and feasibility of the company’s technology. If the tech is proven out, the company may gain further support in an R42 grant. Such grants are provided under the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) program, which funds projects between small businesses and non-profit U.S. research institutions, such as universities. 

“Our R41 award from the Institute aims to refine our cutting-edge conduct disorder intervention using immersive virtual reality,” says Nick Thomson, Ph.D., associate professor in VCU’s departments of psychology and surgery, director of research at VCU Health’s Injury and Violence Prevention Program, and CEO of Arche VR.

Thomson said the project will also test the intervention's effectiveness through a randomized clinical trial conducted at VCU.

Arche VR is delivering evidence-based mental health interventions using virtual reality headset and custom software. The attempt is to prevent bullying, violent behaviors, and retaliatory violence. The youth Thomson sees in his lab at VCU’s West Hospital in Richmond show signs of externalizing disorders that could cause serious legal issues or violent episodes later in life.

Arche’s team includes principal investigator Thomson along with co-PI Scott Vrana, Ph.D., an emeritus professor of clinical psychology at VCU and Arche’s senior research scientist.