Merry S. Wang: Taking Science into the Third Dimension

Merry S. Wang: Taking Science into the Third Dimension

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By: Danielle D. DeSouza

Biomedical Communicators create images, interactive technologies, and animations/simulations to effectively communicate complex scientific topics. Graduating from the Master of Science in Biomedical Communications (MScBMC) program at the University of Toronto (U of T) only last year, Merry Wang has already attained a position in the research department of a multinational corporation that focuses on 3D design software. In this role, she works on various programs that target diverse realms of the life sciences. She combines her artistic abilities, background in health sciences, and technical skills to find her niche in the rapidly growing fields of 3D visualization and bio/nanotechnology and programmable matter.

Biomedical communicators interpret the scientific literature and use their artistic abilities to translate the ideas across a variety of media. Wang developed her artistic abilities at a young age; as a child growing up in China, some of her first exposures to art came from watching her grandfather sketch. Working as an archeologist, her grandfather would frequent the Great Wall of China to recreate historical scenes of the Great Wall based on the battle remnants he discovered. As he worked, Wang was inspired to draw her own versions of these scenes, and although visual arts were not the focus of her later studies, it always remained a hobby.

During her undergraduate degree at McMaster University, Wang set her focus on the health sciences. While in her third year, she worked in an anatomy lab as a prosector, preparing dissections for demonstration. It was here that one of her colleagues mentioned U of T’s Biomedical Communications (BMC) program. Curious to learn more, Wang looked into the program, and her eyes opened to the possibility of working in a field where she could fuse art and science. Wang enrolled in the program the following year.

Wang elected to specialize in 3D visualization. After gaining experience in stem cell research during her undergraduate thesis project, Wang knew she also wanted to complete her master’s research project in this field. Under the supervision of Dr. Andras Nagy, a senior scientist at the Samual Lunenfeld Research Institute at Mount Sinai Hospital, Wang undertook the challenging task of creating a 3D animation that highlighted a novel stem cell treatment for age-related macular degeneration. Wang not only used her technical and artistic abilities to create this project, but she also had to have a deep understanding of the complex scientific content she was working on. Wang noted, “Many people think that Biomedical Communicators simply convey the results of scientists to the public. One of the things I feel strongly about is that people in our field have not only the ability of understanding medical/scientific information, we are also well equipped to make significant contributions in the research process.” Impressively, throughout her master’s degree, Wang also worked on the IMS Magazine. She explained that working on the magazine was a great opportunity to gain experience and sharpen other skills by exploring design and layout.

Wang accepted a position at the multinational software company, Autodesk, shortly after the completion of her master’s project. Although Autodesk is well known for their 3D computer-aided design (CAD) software in a variety of industries (including architecture, manufacturing, engineering, media and entertainment), life sciences have also become an emerging area. The group has been involved in projects with collaborators from around the world, including Organovo, a company dedicated to creating functional human tissues using 3D bioprinting technology. Their research focuses on creating human tissues in 3D that are architecturally correct and made entirely of living human cells.(1) Their goal is for the tissue to function like native tissue and for it to be used in medical research, drug development, and surgical therapies. As Wang commented, “They have the hardware, and Autodesk has the software expertise; it makes for an excellent collaboration.”

Another fascinating collaboration was with Dr. George Church and colleagues from the Wyss Institute at Harvard University. Their project involved using DNA as a programming language to create nanostructures through DNA origami.(2) One application of this technique in the health field aims to use “nanorobots” to deliver drugs to specified target cells (e.g., cancer cells).(3) Nanorobots change their configuration to release their contents once they detect receptors present on the target cell only; in this way, nanorobots have a specificity that other drugs lack.

Wang’s experience at Autodesk has not only confirmed her passion for biomedical communication, but also for research. It is her future goal to be able to use 3D visualizations and simulations as a tool to drive further research. Wang has already been accepted to pursue further graduate training at U of T next year. Until then, we must patiently wait until she reveals which part of science she will bring to 3D next.

1. Jakab, K., Damon, B., Neagu, A., Kachurin, A., and Forgacs, G. (2006). Three-dimensional tissue constructs built by bioprinting. Biorheology, 43(3-4): 509-13.
2. Ke, Y., Ong, L.L., Shih, W.M., and Yin, P. (2012). Three-dimensional structures self-assembled from DNA bricks. Science, 338(6111): 1177-83.
3. Douglas, S.M., Bachelet, I., Church, G.M. (2012). A logic-gated nanorobot for targeted transport of molecular payloads. Science, 335(6070): 831-4.