Monthly Archives: August 2012

Welcome to Immune Defense

Our new game is a two dimensional strategy game called Immune Defense.  Seven kinds of white bloods cells can be bought and deployed in the never-ending, always-escalating war against 15 viral and bacterial pathogens.

Part 1 of Immune Defense to be released February 1, 2013.  Part 2 will be ready for beta testing In June, 2013.

Description for scientists:

Players must use the right combination of phagocytes, T-Cells and B-Cells for each combination of bacteria, viruses and parasites.  Players also regulate the type of proteins that appear on each cell’s surface and spend points to buy cells, to move drag cytokines and to activate white blood cells.  Surface proteins are required to recognize pathogens and receive signals.  Some signals cause cells to move, other cause activation, other tether cells to a location.  Activation is required for the most effective killing of pathogens… but it comes at a cost: more activated white blood cells raises your inflammation rate.  The game is over if your inflammation gets too high.  (Should have saved some points to buy a T-Reg!)

Description for Teachers:

Immune Defense is a simple, free game that anyone over 10 can play.  It is Macintosh compatible, can be played in a browser window if you have an internet connection and it can be downloaded and installed if you do not.  Low end computers can play this game.  A 30-minute period is sufficient, and a 60 minute period is not too long.  The game teaches many science standards that are appropriate for 5th through 12th grades; see below for Learning Objectives.  The game style and game play has been optimized for 9th and 10th grade students.  But we know that younger and older students enjoy the game.

Please contact me mstegman at FAS.org is you have any questions at all!  Or please add your comment below.

Evaluation of Immune Defense in Classrooms.

We are testing Immune Defense in classrooms this coming school year, and we need your help!   If you teach any subject to 9th or 10th grade and think our learning objectives, video game art, technology development, cells/proteins or nanotechnology, etc. fits into your curriculum and can give us three 45-minute periods, please see our evaluation collaborator’s website for more information on how you can join us!  Maine International Center for Digital Learning MICDL.org. 

These are the general Learning Objectives:

—Randomness of molecular diffusion
—Specificity of interactions between protein signals and protein receptors
—Low and high affinity interactions are different
—Cells have specific functions because of their unique complement of proteins
—Cells can signal to each other
—Cells respond to their environment if they have the correct receptors
—Regulating which proteins you have on hand is important for cell function
—Altering the proteins you have on hand is called cell differentiation
—Pathogens have evolved to thwart our immune system
—Viruses, bacteria and parasites have different ways of attacking and
—White blood cells, antibodies and complement factors all play different roles to combat different pathogens
—Structure and function of biologically relevant molecules and proteins
—The role of Oxidation and free radical chemistry in defense against pathogens
—Introduction to technology and nanotechnology
—Introduction to web based databases and resources
—Introduction to research methods and data presentation
—The player will see real data images of the cells and molecules presented in the game. The player will also be given their own online handbook of links to sites like Leica Microscope’s education page. Curious students can thus satisfy their quest for further information. Because links are presented in context of the game, this advanced information is meaningful to players.

 

Description for players:

Immune Defense takes place in the Immune Attack universe, chronologically, after the action in Immune Attack.  (Download our PC only, 3D game free on our site, ImmuneAttack.org!)  What we did not see in Immune Attack is that you, the new pilot who has no previous training in cell biology or immunology, accidentally and against the repeated advice of the artificial intelligence of the Microbot, gave a white blood cells a fly by.  Zooming down super close to the surface of an activated Macrophage, your Microbot was caught in an phagocytosis event.  Bitterly angry with you, the tiny, artificially intelligent Bot literally stewed for an hour in the acid and free radical oxidizing agents used by Macrophages to kill pathogens.

By the time the Bot was rescued, the acid and oxidation had done a lot of damage…  damage to your friendship with the little Bot!  However, artificial intelligence is more creative than you’d expect, and creative solutions are so much better than holding a grudge.  Every intelligent being knows that.

So the Microbot created a video game for you.  If you can master this game, Bot says, then it allow you to pilot it.  Until you master this 2D simulation of the Immune System, however, the Bot is refusing to heed your instructions.  So you’d better get busy and win this game, because your orders are to use this Microbot to heal patients… and explaining that you are having a personal disagreement with a Bot will be hard to explain to your superior.

Game Development notes:

Originally conceived as a tower defense styled game, Immune Defense originally had a Tower Defense style menu.  We found that the tower defense menu really did not help players figure out what to do.  When we thought about it, we decided our game had morphed into a real time strategy kind of game… so we spent some time working out what kind of game user interface (GUI).  We have a rough version you can play at our Testing Site.  This version still includes our tower defense styled GUI.  Soon, we’ll have a version of the game with a new GUI that matches its real time strategy mechanisms better.  You will be able to compare the two GUI’s and see for yourself what a difference they make.

Credits:

Immune Defense is a work in progress, but here are the credits so far.
Federation of American Scientists
………..Melanie Stegman, lead scientist, writer, designer, producer
………..—Jerold Council, intern and immunology text book interpreter
Cosmocyte, game development:
………..—Cameron Slayden, CMI
………..—Alec Slayden, Technical Lead
Scientific Advisory Group most helpful volunteer:
………..Howard Young, Ph.D.
Freelance programmer:
………..Ohad Frenkel

Here is the view from your Microbot cockpit.

Here is the view from your Microbot cockpit.

Association of Medical Illustrators presentation

What follows is my personal history with Medical Illustration.  I was very proud to present my work on Immune Attack and Immune Defense at the 2012 conference of the Association of Medical Illustrators.

Click here for my slides: Association of Medical Illustrators presentation, July 28, 2012

I am proud to carry on the tradition of communicating biology to a wide audience with my game Immune Defense.  So.  Science Video Games.  Where in the world did they come from?  Well, let’s look a little bit into the past.  Have you heard of Medical Illustration?  Have you ever wondered maybe bout how medical students learn about body parts, without the body?  Or perhaps you’ve wondered how a surgeon gets an idea of how a surgery should proceed, without actually doing the surgery?  Medical Illustration is the assembly of facts and information about procedures and about body parts into an image, a video or an interactive software that explains the parts, their relationship and the purpose of the procedure to the viewer.  A medical illustrator is part scientist, part artist.  Presenting science requires understanding which aspects of it are key to the understanding of it, that is which are the core concepts?  In a drawing of a surgery the question is what is the key moment, what does it look like when the procedure is halfway finished in the correct manner?

Medical Illustration is a long tradition that has changed a lot as new science and new technology have become available.  Check out the information and drawings at the Association of Medical Illustrators website, www.AMI.org, presentation and techniques. These days, medical illustration often involves gathering information about proteins and cells and presenting this gathered information in an image/video/interactive software.  The information that needs to be gathered comes from many sources.  Biochemists spend a lot of time studying one protein, and publish their results generally on their one protein.    Cell Biologists spend a lot of time looking at one kind of cell.  But there is a vast amount of knowledge to be gained from looking at how many proteins interact, how many cell types interact, how one protein moves, how many proteins associate with each other on a vesicle…  Who has the skills to put all this data into a comprehensive format?  Yep, Medical Illustrators.

Sounds like I am fond of medical illustrators, doesn’t it?  I am.  As a biochemist, I spent 7 years studying one protein, a motor protein–or at least a protein that has a similar amino acid sequence to other proteins that had motor activity.  My protein did not have any activity.  It just sat there in my test tube, silent.  I had read the papers, I knew all the assays that were supposed to reveal the activity of my motor-like protein.  I knew there was ATP that was broken, a microtubule to be released, a new microtubule to be grabbed, a new ATP to be grabbed  …  I knew lots of words about my protein, my brain was filled with data and numbers and methods.

However, Ron Vale the motor protein biochemist asked Graham Johnson the medical illustrator to make a movie of Ron’s protein Kinesin walking along a microtubule.  Using the data from many biochemical experiments in test tubes, Graham created a movie of what Kinesin must look like.

Now I had a story, a comprehensive idea, a foundation of thought about my possible motor protein that I could build on.  All those biochemical experiments had been summed up into a video.  A story is a compact way for our brain to store a lot of information!  Space in my brain was now available for building up some new words about my protein.  I imagined a new role for my possible motor protein, building on the story of the original motor protein.  I did a whole bunch more biochemical assays, and well, no one has made a movie of my data yet, but you could read the papers if you wanted to

Another video, requested by Harvard’s Biovisions group, showed Kinesin (at 1:16) walking gloriously along a microtubule, carrying its huge vesicle …  it was a very clear image and showed both aspects of Kinesin’s activities:  Kinesin walks on microtubules but only does so when its other end is bound to a vesicle.  This video, and still images from it, made it possible for me to quickly and completely explain to my colleagues what my thoughts about my own protein were.

Communication of ideas is very important to a scientist.  Mostly, it is important to explain what you are thinking so that your colleagues can attack your idea.  Without attack you will never advance your ideas and if no one understands your idea they can’t attack it properly!

So, there is my personal history with Medical Illustration.  I am proud to carry on the tradition of communicating biology to a wide audience with my game Immune Defense.  I was very proud to present my work on Immune Attack and Immune Defense at the 2012 conference of the Association of Medical Illustrators.

Click here for my slides: Association of Medical Illustrators presentation, July 28, 2012