Animating drug discovery

Henry and Luccas Describing ScienceA picture paints a thousand words. But how many words can be captured in a video? We scientists are by no means artists. We know that or at least we should. The most artistic some scientists get is the use of Paint or PowerPoint to create their images. Asking them to create an animation…well they revert to “animation” in PowerPoint, which has its limitations.

WCAIR sought to create short animations to demonstrate what happens when a drug is ingested orally. What happens to the drug? How does the drug enter the blood? Many of us know what a stomach looks like. Many of us know what a liver looks like. But what does a drug really look like and how does it interact with the body? What processes are taking place behind the scenes in the body that we take for granted?

Scientists are good at visualising these processes in 2D, think of all the images in textbooks, papers etc. But the transport of a drug is not static like these images. Drugs are constantly tumbling in solution, villi in the intestine are constantly moving and blood is continuously flowing. It can be difficult for scientists to explain this motion to their audience.

So, the question now is, how was WCAIR going to create these animations with very limited knowledge in animated space? Hire a professional!

WCAIR sought out the help of Konstantinos Alexandrou, a recent graduate of the University of Dundee MSc in Medical Art. Konstantinos worked with us for 6-months to create 2 animated videos on “Absorption” and “Metabolism” of a drug.

It was very fortunate that Konstantinos had a background in biomedical sciences. This meant he had an understanding of the anatomy and biological aspects of the internal organs but had limited knowledge of drug discovery, the route a drug takes to make it to the systemic circulation and the molecular properties of drugs and proteins alike. To help fill in the blanks, Konstantinos worked alongside WCAIR’s Scientific and Pedagogy lead Lauren Webster and WCAIR trainees Henry Onyame and Luccas Sanches. Interactions with Konstantinos took place online due to the pandemic and social distancing, so the team used molecular modelling kits, the Protein DataBank and office stationery (yes office stationery!) to create live action videos to re-enact what the body was doing to the drug at a molecular level (Pharmacokinetics). These videos served as valuable tools for Konstantinos to create his animations.

There are two images showing the heme group of CYP450 enzymes.  The left image shows the model the WCAIR trainees made and the right image shows the final animated version.
The heme group of CYP450 enzymes. The image on the left is a photo of the model developed by WCAIR trainees. The image on the right is how that model looks in the final animation

The result was outstanding! Konstantinos converted the words, hand gestures, questionable camera angles and sticky notes into digital art. If you asked a drug discovery scientist “How do phase I enzymes metabolise drugs?” You would get the response of “…oxidises.” But how? How does the enzyme do this? Konstantinos’ animation captures this high-level information and displays it as a work of art. The animations are complex yet simple meaning all audiences/disciplines can benefit from them.

Two images showing CYP reductase.  The left image shows a model of the enzyme with a sticky note as the partner enzyme.  The right image shows the final animated version.
CYP reductase. In the left image, our trainees used a sticky note to represent the partner enzyme, in the right image you can see how Konstantinos animated this.

WCAIR and Konstantinos hope that the scientific community enjoy watching these animations. Please share these far and wide to expand people’s knowledge of Absorption and Metabolism of a drug.

To watch both these animations, please go to The Basics of DMPK section of our online materials.