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.
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.