As a child, I remember watching a kids cartoon called: Once Upon a Time … Life. In it, the stories of individual blood cells are told, you see them grow, fight, and eventually die, all that within an entertaining and immersive storytelling. It was a unique and interesting experience for me as a child. It taught me a lot, and till today, whenever I hear a mention of blood cells, I can’t but imagine these cartoon characters. Luckily, with today’s game engines, we can create more immersive experiences that serve to educate us about the mysteries of our bodies, and ourselves.
Douglas Yuen, Markus Santoso, Stephen Cartwright, Christian Jacob
Eukaryo is a simulated bio-molecular world that allows users to explore the complex environment within a biological cell. Eukaryo was developed using Unity, leveraging the capabilities and high performance of a commercial game engine. Through the use of MiddleVR, our tool can support a wide variety of interaction platforms including 3D virtual reality (VR) environments, such as head-mounted displays, augmented reality (AR) headsets, and large scale immersive visualization facilities. Our interactive, 3-dimensional model demonstrates key functional elements of a generic eukaryotic cell. Users are able to use multiple modes to explore the cell, its structural elements, its organelles, and some key metabolic processes. In contrast to textbook diagrams and even videos, Eukaryo immerses users directly in the biological environment, giving a more effective demonstration of how cellular processes work, how compartmentalization affects cellular functions, and how the machineries of life operate.
As a game developer, it was really an exciting read. Seeing my favorite game engine being used in cases beyond entertainment is quite thrilling. It is even considered a technical achievement for the engine, as modeling a living cell, with all the subsystems it has is an overwhelming task. The biggest technical challenge, in my opinion, is to be able to simulate tons of GameObjects with a high frame rate. Luckily, the paper talked about their choice of Unity Entities in the simulation. They ended up using GameObjects only for parts of the cell that has rules of interaction and defined the rules with script components. Other moving tiny parts of the cell such as water molecules were simulated using Unity Particle System. Particles where spawned with varying speeds and lifespans to simulate the Brownian Motion of molecules (I wonder if it is the same as Brown Noise?).
Prof. C. Jacob has given a great TED talk on how he believes game engines will impact Medicine. The talk inspired me to think about the future possibilities of game engines simulating our bodies. What if we could have a real-time simulation of a body and using some controls, we could advance time or go back, which allows us to see the result of the biological processes on the long-term. An example of this is seeing how cancer could develop, or how drugs affect our bodies. I think the biggest obstacle to this future is having strong enough computers that would not only be able to simulate all the processes to the molecular level, but also render them for us to see and interact.
The paper is filled with Biology terminology, which made it a bit difficult to read, but, it is filled with great illustrations of the simulation that keeps you thrilled and amazed.
To access the paper, you need academic access to ACM: https://dl.acm.org/citation.cfm?doid=2927929.2927931