Developing the HOPE PROJECT to help children with cancer stay active and informed became very personal for Hernâni Oliveira, when he was diagnosed with lymphoma himself.
Winning the Astellas Oncology Changing Cancer Care (C3) Prize a year later, then, marked a significant milestone for the University of Porto researcher.
The HOPE PROJECT is the second annual winner of the C3 Prize, set up to recognize non-treatment, non-medicine-based initiatives to improve cancer care.
Here, Hernâni tells us what being chosen as the $50,000 Grand Prize Winner means to him, his team, and the future of the apps they have developed.
What was the inspiration for the HOPE PROJECT?
Children going through cancer treatment often struggle emotionally and physically. This impact on physical health and having to deal with emotional issues can lead to a reduction in the effectiveness of treatment.
We really wanted to understand the complexities of that problem, so we worked with patients to conceptualize the HOPE PROJECT. We talked about their perceptions of cancer and their biggest fears. We wanted to develop a good solution for them, a solution that mattered. That’s why the main core of the activity was listening to our patients and their parents or carers.
How does the project work and how does it help people living with cancer?
There are two parts to the project: the video game for children aged between six and 12 and the parents and carers app.
The game uses the metaphor of a superhero – the patient – fighting the bad guys – cancer. It is set in the different environments that patients experience, e.g., hospital, home and school. Playing teaches users about treatments and procedures and how to talk about cancer. It also encourages children to engage in physical activity by playing the game. Through the main character, the patient can overcome their main fears about cancer.
The parents and carers app has been designed to increase cancer literacy. It guides the carers through the treatment journey, giving information on medical procedures and explaining things simply.
Why does winning the C3 Prize mean so much to you?
The award is very important to me on a personal level, because one year ago I was diagnosed with lymphoma. This made me truly appreciate the importance of this kind of project. I focused all my energy on the project to distract myself during the long periods of chemotherapy. One year later, I am in remission and this prize marks a significant milestone for me and the next stage of my life.
What is next for the project?
It was amazing to have the opportunity to present the project at the Union for International Cancer Control World Cancer Leaders’ Summit in Mexico City. I was able to meet the other finalists, share ideas and even talk about possible collaborations.
The C3 Prize will allow our team to run a trial of our latest prototype. Our aim is to improve the quality of the game and the app and thereby reduce hospital admission times for patients. We want to develop the project for other oncology institutes that have expressed an interested and make it available in English, French and Portuguese. Because the Union for Cancer Control was held in Mexico, we are now speaking to a lot of companies and foundations in Latin America, so there’s a possibility the project will also be turned into Spanish.