Research Highlights / Full Story

Medical illustration, also known as biomedical visualization, is the practice of intricately representing medicine and science in digital, modeling, or printed form. Medical illustrators are specially trained artists with advanced education in the biomedical sciences, digital media, and the principles of visual communication.

"Interactivity between the surgeon, patient, and imaging used to fall outside the traditional realm of medical illustration, but that's not the case anymore," says James Perkins, professor and graduate director of the medical illustration program in RIT's College of Health Sciences and Technology. "It's not uncommon for medical illustrators to collaborate with physicians, scientists, and other health care professionals to translate complex scientific information into visual imagery that supports medical education, science research, and patient care."

Perkins, an expert in the visual communication of complex biomedical subject matter, is an award-winning illustrator of more than 40 medical textbooks and consults with major medical publishers.

Carrying on the work of Dr. Frank H. Netter, hailed as the greatest medical illustrator of our time, Perkins contributes most of the molecular and cellular art to a wide range of titles still bearing Netter's name.

While much of today's medical illustrations continue to be used in textbooks, modern-day medical illustrators regularly find themselves working in three dimensions, creating anatomical teaching models, patient simulators, and facial prosthetics for Web-based media.

RIT's graduate program in medical illustration is one of only five such programs in North America, and the university is the only one to offer both graduate and undergraduate programs. The two-year graduate program combines training in human anatomy (with complete cadaver dissection), histology (the cellular structure of organs), and pathophysiology (the study of disease) with extensive training in 2D and 3D digital graphics, interactive media, and animation.

Perkins believes today's advancements in imaging modalities such as 3D modeling and other animation techniques will be able to help solve increasingly difficult visualization challenges that surgeons and computer scientists encounter.

"Creative thinking applied to design, 3D modeling, and animation techniques employed by medical illustrators will help shape the future of pre-surgical planning and intra-operative guidance," Perkins predicts. "This integration of the roles of surgeon and medical illustrator will lead to techniques that correlate with improved patient outcomes."