Med­ical an­i­ma­tion: Mak­ing it eas­i­er for the site and the pa­tient to un­der­stand

Med­ical an­i­ma­tion has in re­cent years be­come an in­creas­ing­ly im­por­tant tool for con­vey­ing niche in­for­ma­tion to a var­ied au­di­ence, par­tic­u­lar­ly to those au­di­ences with­out ex­per­tise in the spe­cial­ist area. Sci­ence pro­grammes to­day, for ex­am­ple, have moved from the piece-to-cam­era of the uni­ver­si­ty pro­fes­sor ex­plain­ing how a com­plex dis­ease mech­a­nism works, to ac­tu­al­ly show­ing the view­er first-hand what it might look like to shrink our­selves down to the size of an ant’s foot, and trav­el in­side the hu­man body to wit­ness these process­es in ac­tion. Ef­fec­tive­ly com­mu­ni­cat­ing a com­plex dis­ease patho­phys­i­ol­o­gy, or the nov­el mech­a­nism of ac­tion of a new drug, can be com­plex. This is es­pe­cial­ly dif­fi­cult when the au­di­ence do­main knowl­edge is lim­it­ed or non-ex­is­tent. Med­ical an­i­ma­tion can help with this com­mu­ni­ca­tion chal­lenge in sev­er­al ways.

Im­proved ac­ces­si­bil­i­ty to vi­su­al­i­sa­tion

Vi­su­al­i­sa­tion is a core com­po­nent of our abil­i­ty to un­der­stand a con­cept. Ask 10 peo­ple to vi­su­alise an ap­ple, and each will come up with a slight­ly dif­fer­ent im­age, some ap­ples small­er than oth­ers, some more round, some with bites tak­en. Ac­cept­able, you say, we can move on to the next part of the sto­ry. Now ask 10 peo­ple to vi­su­alise how HIV’s cap­sid pro­tein gets arranged in­to the hexa­m­ers and pen­tamers that form the vi­ral cap­sid that holds HIV’s ge­net­ic ma­te­r­i­al. This re­quest may pose a chal­lenge even to some­one with some vi­rol­o­gy knowl­edge, and it is that in­abil­i­ty to ef­fec­tive­ly vi­su­alise what is go­ing on that holds us back from ful­ly un­der­stand­ing the rest of the sto­ry. So how does med­ical an­i­ma­tion help us to over­come this vi­su­al­i­sa­tion chal­lenge?

Vi­su­al­i­sa­tion of a HIV Cap­sid
(Med­ical An­i­ma­tion vi­su­als by FIRECREST at ICON)

Click on the im­age to see the full-sized ver­sion

First­ly, ad­vances in sci­en­tif­ic tech­nolo­gies, such as x-ray crys­tal­log­ra­phy, NMR spec­troscopy, and elec­tron mi­croscopy gave us the abil­i­ty to de­ter­mine the atom­ic struc­ture and de­vel­op re­al­is­tic struc­tur­al mod­els for many of the pro­teins which in­sti­gate dif­fer­ent dis­eases. We can even de­tect struc­tur­al dif­fer­ences in pro­teins that are bound to oth­er mol­e­cules, that are in ac­tive or in­ac­tive states, or that have a drug can­di­date bound to them.

Due to the vast im­prove­ments in 3-di­men­sion­al mod­el­ling pro­grams over the last decade, med­ical an­i­ma­tion en­ables us to take those sci­en­tif­i­cal­ly-ac­cu­rate struc­tur­al mod­els and mech­a­nis­tic in­for­ma­tion of pro­teins and ma­nip­u­late them in a vir­tu­al en­vi­ron­ment. This al­lows us to cre­ate ac­cu­rate, dy­nam­ic vi­su­al­i­sa­tions that are much more ac­ces­si­ble and un­der­stand­able to a wider pop­u­la­tion than a para­graph of tech­ni­cal sci­en­tif­ic text ever could be. An­i­ma­tion brings sci­ence and med­i­cine to life, be­cause it vi­su­alis­es the “re­sult” of huge amounts of com­plex in­for­ma­tion just like we don’t need to know ex­act­ly how Google’s search en­gine works in or­der for us to ap­pre­ci­ate the search re­sults it re­turns. Im­prov­ing ac­ces­si­bil­i­ty to vi­su­al­i­sa­tion means that we can more quick­ly and eas­i­ly ap­pre­ci­ate the con­cep­tu­al mod­el be­ing dis­cussed, and so of­fers an “in” to fol­low­ing and un­der­stand­ing the next part of the sto­ry.

Bal­anc­ing sci­en­tif­ic ac­cu­ra­cy and artis­tic li­cense

Sim­pli­fi­ca­tion of a com­plex body of sci­en­tif­ic and med­ical knowl­edge in­to the key com­po­nents re­quired to com­mu­ni­cate a mes­sage ef­fec­tive­ly, is one of the plus­es of com­mu­ni­cat­ing us­ing med­ical an­i­ma­tion. The art of sto­ry­telling and clear com­mu­ni­ca­tion comes from un­der­stand­ing what not to show the au­di­ence, as much as it comes from know­ing what to show. For ex­am­ple, you may want to com­mu­ni­cate that neu­ro­trans­mit­ters are trans­port­ed to the pre-synapse of a neu­ron and then fuse with the cell mem­brane to be re­leased in­to the synap­tic cleft. How­ev­er, we don’t need to show the hun­dreds of aux­il­iary pro­teins in­volved in their trans­port, or the thou­sands of oth­er struc­tures that in­hab­it the same cel­lu­lar space ( http://riz­zoli-lab.de/the-neu­ron-nanomap/ ) as our mol­e­cules of in­ter­est. It on­ly re­quires that we in­clude the mol­e­c­u­lar play­ers that are key to telling the sto­ry, whilst main­tain­ing an ac­cu­rate por­tray­al of the mech­a­nisms in­volved. Ef­fec­tive com­mu­ni­ca­tion is about find­ing that bal­ance be­tween sci­en­tif­ic ac­cu­ra­cy and artis­tic li­cense.

Sim­pli­fi­ca­tion avoids in­for­ma­tion over­load whilst de­liv­er­ing the key in­for­ma­tion, there­fore clar­i­fy­ing the com­mu­ni­ca­tion. In this way, med­ical an­i­ma­tion has the abil­i­ty to unite view­ers around a sim­pli­fied, sin­gu­lar con­cep­tu­al mod­el. This in turn can fa­cil­i­tate di­a­logue and dis­cus­sion be­tween peo­ple with dif­fer­ent lev­els of knowl­edge, be­cause every­one has a com­mon, clear, con­cep­tu­al mod­el to work from.

Struc­tured in­for­ma­tion de­liv­ery

When com­mu­ni­cat­ing with peo­ple who have lim­it­ed time, it is im­por­tant to con­vey your mes­sage in a con­cise man­ner. There­fore, med­ical writ­ers must con­dense es­sen­tial in­for­ma­tion in­to fo­cused, struc­tured lessons that fol­low log­i­cal se­quen­tial steps. The steps are care­ful­ly de­signed be­fore­hand, which helps the view­er to fol­low a co­her­ent sto­ry flow and process in­for­ma­tion more eas­i­ly. By its very na­ture, med­ical an­i­ma­tion can en­hance this type of in­for­ma­tion con­den­sa­tion. For ex­am­ple, we can vi­su­al­ly tra­verse mul­ti­ple en­vi­ron­ments in a mat­ter of sec­onds; from a view of a per­son’s body, to their lungs, on to their alve­oli, down to the cell lev­el, fi­nal­ly reach­ing a re­cep­tor on the cell sur­face. This vi­su­al ap­proach main­tains a strong con­text of the sub­ject mat­ter, while re­duc­ing the time need­ed to con­vey the in­for­ma­tion.

First­ly, ad­vances in sci­en­tif­ic tech­nolo­gies, such as x-ray crys­tal­log­ra­phy, NMR spec­troscopy, and elec­tron mi­croscopy gave us the abil­i­ty to de­ter­mine the atom­ic struc­ture and de­vel­op re­al­is­tic struc­tur­al mod­els for many of the pro­teins which in­sti­gate dif­fer­ent dis­eases. We can even de­tect struc­tur­al dif­fer­ences in pro­teins that are bound to oth­er mol­e­cules, that are in ac­tive or in­ac­tive states, or that have a drug can­di­date bound to them.

Due to the vast im­prove­ments in 3-di­men­sion­al mod­el­ling pro­grams over the last decade, med­ical an­i­ma­tion en­ables us to take those sci­en­tif­i­cal­ly-ac­cu­rate struc­tur­al mod­els and mech­a­nis­tic in­for­ma­tion of pro­teins and ma­nip­u­late them in a vir­tu­al en­vi­ron­ment. This al­lows us to cre­ate ac­cu­rate, dy­nam­ic vi­su­al­i­sa­tions that are much more ac­ces­si­ble and un­der­stand­able to a wider pop­u­la­tion than a para­graph of tech­ni­cal sci­en­tif­ic text ever could be. An­i­ma­tion brings sci­ence and med­i­cine to life, be­cause it vi­su­alis­es the “re­sult” of huge amounts of com­plex in­for­ma­tion just like we don’t need to know ex­act­ly how Google’s search en­gine works in or­der for us to ap­pre­ci­ate the search re­sults it re­turns. Im­prov­ing ac­ces­si­bil­i­ty to vi­su­al­i­sa­tion means that we can more quick­ly and eas­i­ly ap­pre­ci­ate the con­cep­tu­al mod­el be­ing dis­cussed, and so of­fers an “in” to fol­low­ing and un­der­stand­ing the next part of the sto­ry.

Util­is­ing med­ical an­i­ma­tion to il­lus­trate the com­plex process­es that oc­cur at the cel­lu­lar and mol­e­c­u­lar lev­els.  (Med­ical An­i­ma­tion vi­su­als by FIRECREST at ICON)

Click on the im­age to see the full-sized ver­sion

Me­an­der­ing de­scrip­tions and dis­cus­sions that go off on ir­rel­e­vant tan­gents are re­placed with a struc­tured, con­cise, co­her­ent, and il­lus­trat­ed mes­sage in an easy-to-fol­low medi­um. Hence, time saved and the mes­sage is de­liv­ered.

Mul­ti-modal in­for­ma­tion de­liv­ery that leaves a last­ing im­pact

Prob­a­bly the main ben­e­fit of med­ical an­i­ma­tion in meet­ing the chal­lenges of in­for­ma­tion com­mu­ni­ca­tion is the mul­ti-modal ap­proach it takes to in­for­ma­tion de­liv­ery; name­ly, the com­bi­na­tion of graph­ics, au­dio nar­ra­tion, and text. We know that peo­ple con­sume in­for­ma­tion and learn in dif­fer­ent ways; some pre­fer to read, some pre­fer to lis­ten to au­dio with their eyes closed, whilst oth­ers pre­fer to see what is go­ing on. Med­ical an­i­ma­tion de­liv­ers all three modes (though on-screen text is min­imised) to help max­imise the in­for­ma­tion trans­fer and en­hance the learn­ing ex­pe­ri­ence of the end-user.

Graph­i­cal in­for­ma­tion is con­sid­ered to be the mode that leads to best re­call, and de­liv­ers a con­cep­tu­al mod­el that can serve as a ba­sis for fur­ther learn­ing. Med­ical an­i­ma­tions are as much about the nar­ra­tion as the vi­su­al graph­ics, as nar­ra­tion car­ries the ac­tu­al mes­sage that you want to com­mu­ni­cate. The voice-over artist’s gen­der, nar­ra­tion tone (for ex­am­ple, au­thor­i­ta­tive, fac­tu­al, com­pas­sion­ate) and pac­ing, all con­tribute to whether a par­tic­u­lar au­di­ence will be re­cep­tive to the nar­ra­tors mes­sage. If a med­ical an­i­ma­tion needs to be lo­calised to an­oth­er lan­guage, care is tak­en to en­sure the mean­ing of the mes­sage is not al­tered dur­ing trans­la­tion. On-screen text is timed to co­in­cide with the au­dio nar­ra­tion, and is used to fur­ther re­in­force key learn­ing points. To­geth­er, these in­te­grat­ed el­e­ments pro­vide a pow­er­ful medi­um of in­for­ma­tion de­liv­ery to the view­er.

Out­ro

De­liv­er­ing med­ical and sci­en­tif­ic in­for­ma­tion in a way that can en­gage both the in­ves­tiga­tive site and the pa­tient is a chal­lenge, and one that is be­com­ing in­creas­ing­ly tough in this age of in­for­ma­tion over­load and pro­to­col com­plex­i­ty. Med­ical an­i­ma­tion pro­vides a pow­er­ful medi­um to de­liv­er in­for­ma­tion in a sim­pli­fied, struc­tured way for both the pa­tient and site ed­u­ca­tion.