Nature Medicine | Spoonful of Medicine

Focus on biomedical art

nm0910-944-I2.jpgScience is an art, but that doesn’t mean that all scientists are artists. So, researchers often collaborate with skilled designers to place scientific ideas and results within the social framework in which we live. To explore this unique partnership, we asked eminent museum curators and art instructors from around the world to identify the people they see as leading innovators at the interface of art and medicine. In the September issue of Nature Medicine, we present four such individuals or design teams who are challenging established scientific orthodoxy and furthering our understanding of the role of biomedical research today.

Plus, in the blog post below the jump, we highlight a fifth artist in a Web-only bonus mini-profile written by Gary Lees, chair and director of the Department of Art as Applied to Medicine at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in Baltimore.

Bang-on design: Bang Wong

4_Broad1147 9-4-08cropped.jpgI first met Bang Wong more than ten years ago when he was an immunology graduate student at Johns Hopkins, and he came to me wanting to take a few courses in illustration. With his background in the lab, Wong understood how data are generated and analyzed, and he recognized a fundamental flaw in the scientific process — namely, that researchers don’t always communicate their findings in the most captivating and informative ways.

Since shifting careers and becoming a full-time visual problem solver, Wong’s extraordinary talent has propelled him to the vanguard of science visualization. Now the creative director of the Broad Institute in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Wong translates the staggering amount of high-throughput data generated by the institute’s state-of-the-art genomic technologies into videos and images that reveal novel insights into the underlying research.

Every day, visitors can step into the Broad’s lobby — dubbed the DNAtrium — and watch Wong’s latest project, DataStream, which visualizes raw genetic data in vibrant moving images as it flows in near real time from the institute’s own laboratories. Exhibits like this, which provide a more visceral appreciation for the pace, depth and scale of modern biomedical inquiry, can capture the public imagination, but they can be invaluable to researchers and physicians, too. A powerful visual explanation allows scientists to see their work in a new light, which can often inspire future discoveries.

Though I am his former teacher, I now find myself approaching Wong for advice on the use of new technologies for visual solutions to enhance understanding. Fortunately, he’s willing to share his wisdom—both as an adjunct professor in my department and through his new column, launched last month in Nature Methods, on how best to visually present scientific data.

Images courtesy of Revital Cohen (top) and Bang Wong (bottom)


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