Zora at Hospitals

About the Project

The Virtual Communities of Learning and Care project (VCLC), directed by Professor Marina Umaschi Bers, provides a unique experience for youth in transplant programs at Children’s Hospital Boston and Tufts Floating Hospital for Children. VCLC engages pediatric patients in participating in a virtual community where they can design a city, write stories, create characters, chat with each other, and participate in an online support group by using the Zora multi-user graphical environment. VCLC is a research project sponsored by career grant #IIS-0447166 by the National Science Foundation and Deborah Munroe Noonan Memorial Fund in collaboration with the Dept. of Psychiatry at Children’s Hospital Boston and the Tufts Floating Hospital for Children. The goal is to explore the potential of virtual technologies to improve the quality of life for transplant youth and for other children and adolescents in need.


This research examines the potential of virtual environments to foster positive youth development in adverse circumstances, such as having a severe chronic illness or dysfunction that requires organ transplant. This project, funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the Deborah Munroe Noonan Memorial Fund investigates how to develop technological environments, such as the Zora virtual world, to promote positive development in youth and encourage medical adherence and coping strategies among pediatric patients.

Since September 2006, in collaboration with the Department of Psychiatry and the Transplant program at Children’s Hospital Boston, we have been running an NSF research project in which solid-organ pediatric patients use the Zora virtual world. As of fall 2008, we began a new phase in the project with additional funding from the Deborah Munroe Noonan Memorial Fund and we have been working with the Transplant program at Tufts Floating Hospital for Children. Zora is a three-dimensional multi-user environment that engages youth in building a virtual city, chatting with each other, creating virtual places/characters, and writing interactive stories. Patients connect with other children in similar medical situations from their homes or the hospital and share their experiences with each other. In the process of using Zora they explore strategies that might help them with medical adherence and coping. They also address other areas of concern for them, such as how to ease the transition to school.

This NSF and Deborah Munroe Noonan Memorial Fund supported research project examines the extent to which we can leverage youths’ interests in online technologies to create an intervention program to improve the overall well-being and health of pediatric transplant youth. For this research we have developed a specifically tailored psychoeducational program that we implement through engaging transplant youth to participate in Zora.

The project goals are:

  • To facilitate peer network building
  • To encourage medical adherence in pediatric transplant patients
  • To support their psychosocial development by assisting their adjustment to lifestyle changes, medical regimen, and school life.


Primary Investigator – Professor Marina Umaschi Bers – marina.bers@tufts.edu // marina.bers@bc.edu as of 2022

Project Coordinator & Online Facilitator – Keiko Satoh – keiko.satoh@tufts.edu

Research Assistant – Kathryn Cantrell – kathryn.cantrell@tufts.edu

Research Assistant – Alisha Bouzaher – alisha.bouzaher@tufts.edu

Research Assistant – Amy Fischer – amy.fischer@tufts.edu

Technical Coordinator – Nauman Khan – nauman.khan@tufts.edu

Children’s Hospital Boston


  • Dr. David DeMaso
  • Dr. Joseph Gonzalez-Heydrich

Cardiac Transplant Program

  • Elizabeth D. Blume, MD
  • Leslie Smoot, MD
  • TP Singh, MD
  • Chris Almond, MD
  • Ann Rounseville, MSW, LICSW
  • Jaimie Lyons , MSW, LICSW
  • Heather Bastardi, RN, MSN, PNP
  • Shay Dillis, BSN

Kidney Transplant Program

  • William E. Harmon, MD
  • Roberta Hoffman, MSW
  • Theresa Pak, MPH, RN

Liver Transplant Program

  • Maureen M. Jonas, MD
  • Robin Stone, LICSW
  • Laura E. Krawczuk, CPNP, RN

Tufts Floating Hospital for Children

Pediatric Hematology/Oncology Department

  • Howard Grodman , MD
  • Cynthia Kretschmar, MD
  • Cathy Rosenfield, MD
  • Ann Marie Conroy, MSN, PNP
  • Cathy MacPherson, MSN, PNP
  • Carol Farwell, Child Life Specialist
  • Jeanne Hampton, Child Life Specialist

Pediatric Renal Department

  • Lawrence Milner, MD
  • Jamie Owens, RN

With support from:

NSF & Deborah Munroe Noonan Memorial Fund