Category Archives: News

Immune Defense history and update

Understanding the basics of cell biology, I believe, is vital for an understanding and support for infectious disease research.  This is why I left the lab and starting learning about video games.  I am the PI on an R25 grant from the NIH, National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases, awarded to the FAS Learning Technologies Program at the MICDL.org.   Game evaluation and distribution work are funded by the Entertainment Software Association Foundation.

Now I am about 3 months from releasing Immune Defense, a Real Time Strategy (RTS) game in which the player can deploy 7 types of white blood cells against bacteria, parasites, viruses and even cancer… Our goal is to teach the basics of cell biology.  What proteins do, what receptors do, how cells respond to signals in the environment, how random events lead to predictable behaviors and how the immune system is powerful at killing and how proteins allow for interpretation of signals and make their interactions specifically targeted and how pathogens manage to evade the killing…  The player must battle HIV, TB, Listeria, a Malaria-like organism and many many more.

IMMUNE DEFENSE game description:

Players use brand new Microbot technology to control cells and molecules.  Players deploy Eater cells (Neutrophils) with their LPS receptors (TLR4) to eat E. coli bacteria.  Eaters have powerful “Poison Pods” full of acid and oxidizing molecules that dissolve E. coli bacteria effectively.  All is well, until Streptococcus pneumoniae comes along and your LPS receptor no longer works…  Your trusty collaborating scientists however, have given you an upgrade, you can now control the Complement Receptor on Eater Cells.  And the Complement receptor works, however, it has a lower affinity, so it takes a bit longer to catch those rascally Streptococcus pneumoniae …  which is fine, until some Staphylococcus aureus show up.  The Staphylococcus aureus take a long time for the Eater cells to dissolve….

Immune Defense Evaluation is NOW!

Immune Defense is a cool video game.  The title is blue, the white blood cells are blue, too. And they are eating green e coli bacteria.

Join the oldest battle on Earth.

If you are a teacher of kids ~12-18 years old, you are invited to participate in our evaluation!  We warmly, eagerly and happily invite you!  We have an Amazon gift certificate to pay you back for your time.

We will happily discuss the experiment and results with you and your students after the evaluation.  Please sign up!   (www.surveymonkey.com/s/LearningGame)

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

STEM Video Game Challenge and Teaching Youngsters to Program

Hi.  Do you have a kid at home who is 8?  Or are you a kid who is 8?  Perhaps you are a kid who is 14, or 34.   What would you like to do when you grow up?  Would you like to help the environment, work for major league baseball, or discover something about the human body that helps everyone live longer and happier?  Well, what could you learn to do that would help you with any of those goals?

Programming.

Programming computers is necessary for everything, from the giant scoreboard at the ballpark to discovering which mutated gene a group of cancer patients have in common.  Computer programmers help make weather stations function more effectively, help us analyze data more completely, and they can also program video games!

So, why doesn’t everyone program?  For the same reasons that not everyone plays the guitar:  Not everyone has a computer, or a guide to programming (book or person) and not everyone will look at moving pixels on a computer screen and think, “I want to learn how to move those pixels!”  Personally, I took an informatics class in my German high school, in 1988.  I took the class because all my friends were taking it: yes, I hung out with, and really enjoyed the company of a crowd of geeky boys.  But the class was boring, I didn’t like the projects we did and so I did not try to understand how to program.  We were making a receipt.  So that a store clerk could use a computer to type in the prices, and the receipt software would calculate a total, tax and put it all into a printable format.  OMG is was so boring!

When you are 17 (and when you are any age) it is very easy to get discouraged and think, “I don’t need to understand this, I will never use it.”  Learning anything always takes some effort.  Making an effort is always risky, because you may not triumph!  You may find out that you can’t figure out whatever it is, and 90% of the time you will be sitting next to someone who looks at you funny because you aren’t figuring it out!

The magic happens when your interest and curiosity wins out over your fear of failure.  So we all need interesting songs to play on our guitar, and we all need cool things to program!  Cool is defined by the user, so there is really no telling what will inspire each person to program or learn guitar…  we can just listen to as many songs as possible and check out as many computer programs as possible!

So what can you do to get your 8 year old to learn how to program?  What can you do as a 14 year old who would like to become a valuable crew member on a marine life observation station in the Pacific Ocean?  How can you learn to program?  You do the same as if you wanted to learn guitar.  Find a guitar you like, find a book or a mentor you like (or both) and practice.  Some mentors will be smart but not polite, some mentors will be nice but not smart, and your best mentors will be the mean kids who brag about how great they are and act like you don’t know anything.  Listen to what everyone tells you and then make your own decisions.  Let everyone talk, don’t waste time arguing with them about whether you are smart.

And then practice.  Make things.  Join a Game Jam, join a computer programming class or club, talk to your local biology lab and see what kinds of programs they need.Ask your teacher if she needs a spreadsheet that can calculate grades.  Make Things!

The STEM Video Game Challenge was started by a bunch of nice folks who wanted to give you all something to make. Next year in February there will be another chance to compete for prizes with kids all over the country (USA).  There are also likely competitions you can enter in your own country, or local city or state.  Enter all kinds of competitions!  Even if your thing is awful.  Enter!

The http://www.stemchallenge.org/

And then come back and tell me how you did it!  Did you use GameMakerSmall BasicScratch?  These are all good ways to start programming, with GameMaker being the most advanced.

You could also write your game designs on paper, and collaborate with your friends (or enemies) who know how to program.  They may show you a few programming details to get you started.  The STEM Video Game Challenge has a Design Category, too.  Not all winners have playable games, yet!  There are programs (Commercial = not free): Gamestar Mechanic, Little Big Planet, etc. for making games without programming.  Maybe you all know of some others?

OK.  Get busy!  And show me what you make!  Send me your links!  Share your triumphs.  Let me see how you made programming your thing.  Let me see what FUN you had!

 

Teacher made an Immune Attack Demonstration video!

Check out this great Immune Attack demonstration video!!

If you would like to see what Immune Attack is exactly like, watch video of himself playing Immune Attack!

Spoiler alert!  This video is better if you are a teacher, and less interesting if you are a PLAYER!  If you are a student and you are curious, then just download the game (free) and play for yourself!

 

What is going on at FAS Learning Tech?

Here are a few places where you can hear Melanie Stegman speaking about Immune Attack2 development, how to use Immune Attack in a classroom and how learning games (should optimally) get made.  Melanie is also very interested in getting feedback from teachers, so if you are at any other these events, step up and say hey.   Or send an email.  Leaving a comment is nice, too.

Invited Speaker
Harrisburg University Pitch Workshop
October 19th, 2011

Invited Speaker
eTech Ohio
Feb 13-15, 2012 Greater Columbus Convention Center, Columbus, OH
eTech Ohio hosts the third largest state educational technology conference in the country where more than 6,500 educational innovators gather once a year and share their successes and challenges with one another. The conference is an opportunity for educators to honestly share their experiences—what works, and what doesn’t—for the benefit of their peers.
**I will be presenting Immune Attack 2 to teachers in a presentation and getting their feedback in all day workshops.**

Teachers role in a high tech classroom

Everyone seems to have an opinion about teacher’s role in the classroom of the future.  Some claim that teachers should get out of the way and let kids simply have unfettered access to the internet.  Others imagine a classroom in which teachers curate the vast world of information that is available and facilitate students’ understanding.  Certainly, there is more to learn in any subject than any one person could be an expert in.  How can we take the best advantage of technology in the classroom?

Please share your comments below!  I am preparing a blog post addressing the role of teachers in the future, and I would appreciate your thoughts and any resources!

 

Growing the Video Game Industry in the US

Congressional Caucus for Competitiveness in Entertainment Technology, or E-Tech was formed in February by U.S. Representatives Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Kevin Brady.  You can read about the Caucus and see which members of the House have joined it on the Video Game Voters Network.  You can watch Congresswoman Wasserman Schultz speak on Technology and Education HERE at the Atlantic Forum on Technology in Education.

Why does Entertainment Technology need a caucus?  Why is there a Network of Video Game Voters?  Well, video games are big business, and the US is a big market for video games.  From The VGVN Blog:  In 2010, computer and video games contributed $24 billion in sales to the U.S. economy. The computer and video games industry employs 120,000 Americans in high-paying jobs in 34 states.  Computer and video games help soldiers rehabilitate, keep seniors active, and educate our children.  For more information on the roles of video games in our lives, see the Entertainment Software Association’s website.

Like any big business, everyone working and investing in it needs to anticipate growth in the future.  For growth in the video game market we need freedom to create and sell the games that will grow the market and we also need a local workforce trained for the jobs required.  Therefore, limiting regulation and enhancing education are key to increasing the strength of America’s video game industry.

Limiting regulation: Limiting what video games can contain is very similar to limiting what a book can contain, extremely similar.  Limiting the content of our stories and our speech should be resisted, regardless of the economic considerations.

Who is trying to limit what video game contain?  The State of California has had a law since 2005 that could be used (but never has) to restrict the sale of video games.  The Supreme Court will rule in the next two months on whether this law is constitutional.    The VGVN has an excellent FAQs page about the case. You can download the Supreme Court filing on the VGVN FAQ page, too. And here are the direct links:  Read the summary of ESA’s Supreme Court filing
Read the full Supreme Court filing.

Enhancing Education: We will need trained workers to keep up with the world video game and other technology related industries.  Rep Debbie Wasserman Schultzspoke about the E-TECH caucus at the Atlantic’s Forum on Technology in Education,March 30, 2011, see minute 4:30.  Rep. Wasserman Schultz spoke mainly not about regulation but about how we can use technology to enhance our education system.  For example, US students could debate with students in other countries.  It is easy to see how technology can enhance the education of student in every topic, not just technology related ones.  Rep. Wasserman Schultz’s example is simple:  debating economics with students in another country could enhance our students’ understanding of the topic.  Imagine learning about Roman ruins from students in Rome or debating the finer points of baseball vs cricket with students in India.  These kinds of interactions should be common place.

Moving forward locally… To make the innovative use of technology common place in our schools we need to speak up and demand it.  I suggest for starters, that we all go to your local middle school and see if their network allows access to Wikipedia.  You may be very surprised.  We could start by simply that our local tax dollars be used to give this free service available to curious 10 year olds.  See Wikipedia’s FAQ about Wikipedia in School. Then we can turn our attention to down loadable video games like Immune Attack, and blog sites where students could contribute to discussions on current events and science.

Additionally, their many opportunities for teachers, students and parents to get involved in projects that involve technology.  See our Science Games post for updates.