The images above represent, (left to right): The MyPal4Kids logo, MyPal4Kids screenshot of the serious game, MyPal4Kids screenshot of the in-game symptom questionnaire

“Welcome to the research station AquaScout!” – this slogan has finally found its way into the three paediatric oncology wards of the clinical centres which are participating in the MyPal4Kids study: Saarland University Hospital (USAAR) and Hannover Medical School (MHH) in Germany as well as the University Hospital Brno (FNBRNO) in the Czech Republic. AquaScouts is the name of a mobile app which includes a serious game. This game and the likewise named game characters are developed in the framework of the MyPal project as part of a novel digital health platform. AquaScouts is introduced and tested in the observational feasibility study “MyPal4Kids”. The study is focused on children and adolescents between 6 and 17 years old with leukaemia and solid tumours. They can use the app to report symptoms. For their parents and healthcare professionals, a second app has been developed using ePROs to assess the child’s condition.

The phase of recruitment and study enrolment of children and their parents was officially initiated on December 22, 2020 being perceived as an early Christmas present by the three principal investigators Prof. Dr. Norbert Graf (USAAR), Dr. Annette Sander (MHH) and Dr. Petr Lokaj (FNBRNO), despite the unfortunately still ongoing pandemic situation.

The study is led by Prof. Dr. Norbert Graf and his team at USAAR. The successful start of the MyPal-Child study implementation has been a huge joint effort in cooperation with the project collaborators. We have prepared the study protocol including age-appropriate information sheets and informed consent forms, their ethical approval by all competent ethics committees, study registration, the set-up of contractual agreements on data protection and the essential technical infrastructure to be able to conduct the study. In addition, we prepared training material and a comprehensive pre-study testing phase for the components of the digital health platform. Despite of all those crucial steps and also unforeseeable administrative, bureaucratic, logistical and coordinative challenges, the clinical sites have been able to include the first patients into the study at all three sites. It is a great achievement to be running this study now regardless of the corona pandemic.

Working as a joint force, and after indispensable preliminary work and challenges with a delay of 7 months, recruitment is going smoothly at all clinical sites since December 2020. Up to the 8th April 2021, 34 paediatric oncology patients and their parents have already been enrolled in total at USAAR, MHH and BFNBRNO. The anticipated number of study population at the end of March 2022 is 100 which is an achievable number.

The study progress thus far, supported by the first positive feedback and voices received, has made the principal investigators pretty optimistic about the further course of MyPal4Kids. The recruitment process involves healthcare professionals providing respective flyers for information and helping children and parents with the first steps in the study, like the installation of the apps and explanations on how the apps can be used. AquaScout posters have been placed in the wards to spread the word and raise the awareness for the study. First feedback from enrolled children is encouraging. They report positively about the possibility to answer symptom-related questions within the game and the possibilities to personalise the game character, a diver, with different styles. The voice over function is found helpful especially by younger children to help them to understand the questions.

It is too early for any conclusions. According to the current status and development a great potential is obviously notable and makes the clinicians optimistic of a successful outcome of the study. As soon as more data are available, discussions are planned on how to spread the MyPal Apps to other oncology centers and palliative care units in Europe.

Source of app screenshots: Serious Games Solutions/ Promotion Software GmbH