Arce helps develop new mobile app for children in preparation for proton therapy treatment

Dr. Stephen Arce, UF BME lecturer and ABET coordinator, in collaboration with the UF Health Proton Therapy Institute and Flagler College worked to help realize their vision for an interactive storybook mobile app, Proton U, that introduces children to proton therapy and helps alleviate some of their fears.

The project began in 2015 with the Institute’s child life specialist, Kim Ely connected with Natalie Stephenson at Flagler College who guided a team of interactive design students to create the digital images, audio and a storyboard for the app. Ely also found a Microsoft Developer to develop the app for free; however, developing an iOS version proved too difficult, and the project was put on hold. 

That’s when Dr. Danny Indelicato, director of the pediatric proton program at UF Health, reached out to Arce, his brother-in-law, to see whether the Herbert Wertheim College of Engineering could help to code Proton U. For several years, Arce had been programming software and games and saw this as an opportunity to do something bigger, personally offering his services.

“I knew this would be life-changing for the children,” Arce says. “Giving them a measure of control during their treatment is a huge step to improve their experience.”

After putting together a quick demo and meeting with Ely to see what she envisioned, Arce restarted with fresh code using a video game app engine instead of a typical IDE. Under that framework, games and other activities could be smoothly added, updated or removed in future versions and the app could be deployed to multiple platforms using the same code base. Every child at the UF Health Proton Therapy Institute will have free access to the app.

Its creation did not come easily. As Indelicato explains, “We were stuck at third-base. Stephen came and hit a home run.”

Arce believes all of the hard work was worth it.

“Making apps for children to introduce and educate them about therapy is one part of the role software will play in medicine in the future.” he says.

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