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Masters Research Projects

Collage showing sample of BMC MRPsClick on a link below to view the research some of our students have done in recent years.

What is the MRP?

All students complete a Master’s Research Project (MRP) as part of the MScBMC curriculum. The Project is designed to help BMC students enhance their ability to evaluate the literature for sound research design, findings, and conclusions and to show evidence of the graduate student’s ability to apply the literature to his or her own project.

The focus of the project is on biomedical communications, not on the discipline that is being communicated (i.e. Immunology). The graduate student functions as primary designer, researcher, author, illustrator, and communicator for his or her master’s project.

Click on the titles above to read a brief description of student research.

Visualizing the Motor Movements of Autism Using Motion Capture Animation to Facilitate Differential Diagnosis

Gwun-Yee Chin, 2010

Data Visualization fo Motion Capture DataCommittee: S. Wall, M. Dryer, K. Johnson


Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) are spectrum-based neurodevelopmental disorders which demonstrate specific motor impairments. Much research has gone into characterizing the differences in movements between autism and other diagnostic groupings of neurodevelopmental disorders. However, current techniques for studying movement, involving video analyses and direct observation, remain limited because they do not allow researchers to view movements in a controlled and consistent manner which facilitates comparisons over large sample populations. Thisproject will be the first to use motion capture (MoCap) animation to study the movements of ASD in an attempt to address this concern.


Specific neurobehavioural research objectives include:

  1. Assessing the potential use of MoCap animation to study motor movements in neurodevelopmental disorders, in particular, ASD.
  2. Identifying the differences in motor movements in particular stereotyped movements between four groups – children with ASD, intellectual disability with autism, intellectual disability without autism, and typically developed children.

Visual research objectives include:

  1. Determining the most effective type of three-dimensional (3D) character model to animate in order to visualize differences in the motor movements of individuals with neurodevelopmental disorders, in particular, ASD.
  2. Exploring whether camera interactivity when viewing an animation can aid in the understanding and perception of movement.


The animation viewer will be created using the Unity 3D game development tool. A game engine like Unity allows for 3D scenes to be rendered in real-time, giving users the ability to dynamically interact with animations while viewing them. The main challenge of this project will be to come up with a visualization technique that can capture the subtle complexities of biological motion while facilitating optimized comparisons between movements. As such, this project will have a strong information visualization component and a variety of techniques will need to be explored (e.g. motion trails, dynamically generated motion charts).

Perpetual Pain: Nerve growth factor and its role in rheumatoid arthritic pain

Joyce Hui, 2012

Committee: L. Wilson-Pauwels, D. Mazierski, M. Corrin, A. Ribeiro-da-Silva, G. Longo, M.M. Osikowicz


Patients with rheumatoid arthritis suffer from chronic inflammation, swelling, and stiffness of the joints. These symptoms are accompanied by severe, unrelenting pain that devastates the patients’ livelihood. At the forefront of pain research, scientists are investigating the therapeutic potential of blocking nerve growth factor (NGF), a key molecule that heightens pain sensitivity and drives inflammation.

In order to boost interest and knowledge base in this exciting field, my project will provide a 3D visualization depicting the complex cellular and molecular events underlying pain sensitization. Through the creation of a five-minute, 3D animated film targeting pharmacology students, medical students, and pain researchers, I hope to (1) educate viewers on the role of NGF in rheumatoid arthritic pain and (2) stimulate their interest in this area of study.

Select Process

A storyboard was used to continue hashing out the story and visuals. Care was taken to manage the region of attention so that the viewer’s attention would glide smoothly from one area of focus to the next. I sought to minimize camera movement and maximize cohesiveness in order to facilitate understanding of this complex subject matter.

Storyboards - part of the design process for this MRP

Learn About Biliary Atresia: A mobile, personalized patient education experience

Lyndsay Stephenson, 2012

Committee: J. Jenkinson, B. Kamath, V. Lee Ng, C. O’Connor


The SickKids Liver Program has limited appointment time in which to deliver complex patient education to families of infants diagnosed with Biliary Atresia (BA).

Interactive multimedia can increase patient understanding, and variations in the degree of information in patient education can affect learning and emotion. Therefore, accommodating different levels of information using an interactive platform should enhance the leaning experience and reduce emotional burden in families.

Content was written for two target groups:

    1. Teir 1 – grade levels 5-6 (low literacy)
    2. Teir 2 – grade levels 9-10 (average literacy)

The level of readability was verified using the Flesch-Kincaid Grade level statistic in Microsoft Word. Information complexity was decided for each tier with the help of content advisors at SickKids.

Two versions of the user interface with different degrees of complexity

Topics were divided into modules and arranged in a manner that would guide families through the experience they would likely undergo after receiving a diagnosis of BA, anticipating questions they would have along the way.

Home Screen buttons for Interface

Home screen buttons for each module in the patient education program.

Cellular Delivery: An immersive three-dimensional visualization of patient-specific, stem cell-based drug therapy for neovascular age-related macular degeneration

Merry Wang, 2012

Committee: L. Wilson-Pauwels, M. Dryer, A. Nagy, I. Michael

3D cross-section of the eye


Induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSC) have the potential to treat various diseases by using patient-specific approaches. This project explores 3D visualization strategies to communicate this research in a cell-based drug treatment for neovascular age-related macular degeneration (AMD).

The animation has a focus on dynamic camera movements and cinematic design elements to create an immersive experience.

Visualization techniques of two main components in the final animation:

Photoreceptor and RPE environment

Forest imagery is used as inspiration to achieve an organic appearance. Various cinematic design elements are employed for an immersive environment, such as lighting and atmospheric perspective .

Organic blood vessel growth

Animation of pathological choriocapillary growth through the Bruch’s membrane is based on principles of algorithmic botany. The method employs space colonization algorithms of tree branching architecture. It is both context aware (able to bind growth to tortuous mesh surface), and has user ability to define growth-occupying mesh areas.

3D Photoreceptor Cell-Scape

3D dynamic creation of blood vessels


Immersive environments, imagery of nature and organic simulation techniques provide viewers with visual interest in the 3-D animation. Although formal assessment is outside the scope of the research project, the author believes the animation successfully communicates translational research in this novel patient-specific drug therapy for neovascular AMD.

Blood Bot character from Vascular Invaders

Vascular Invaders: Exploring the motivational impact of a video game in an undergraduate study aid.

Andrea Gauthier, 2012

Committee: M. Corrin, M. Dryer, M. Wiley


It has been proposed that co-opting video game technologies and design strategies in education might result in better learning outcomes for the gaming generation. This study investigates whether integrating a gaming component with a 3D anatomical quiz-type study aid has a greater positive influence on motivation to study than the study aid would on its own. It was expected that students exposed to the gamified study aid would spend more time with the tool, would complete more tasks, would login more frequently, and would report a higher level of learner engagement in comparison to students exposed to the standard study aid. This may suggest whether of not future video game-study aid integration is a valid means of communicating information for undergraduate study.

process of creating a 3D heart model

System Crasher character from Vascular Invaders


Due to the small sample size, Mann-Whitney U tests were used to analyze all data. Group B spent a significantly greater amount of time with their tool (p=0.002), completed more tasks (p=0.007), and had a greater mean number of repeat logins. This suggests that motivation to use a study aid is increased when a gaming component is added.

Although additional motivational elements (competition, storyline) were important factors in continues game-use, the tool must be above all valid study aid high educational and entertainment value.

More research into game as study aids for undergraduates is needed with larger sample sizes.

Germageddon: The War of Germs Vs. the Human Immune System – An educational online comic about vaccination and immunity

Germ character from GermageddonNatalia Burachynsky, 2012

Committee: N. Woolridge, S. Wall, J. Keystone


There are currently very few graphics, images and animations currently available on the Internet to aid the public in their understanding and acceptance of the health benefits of vaccinations. Misconceptions are prevalent in today’s media and as a result decreasing numbers of individuals are becoming vaccinated. These misconceptions, together with low science literacy in the public, is resulting in a resurgence in some diseases that are managable with vaccines.

Project Goals

The primary goal in this research project is to create a visually engaging and informative science based resource, for non-science educated adults whom seek information about vaccines and their safety. Information deals with how vaccines are created, how they work, why they are safe, how the immune system works, herd immunity and the impact that not vaccinating oneself may have on a community as a whole. Using a socratic dialogue and comic structure, all science information is visually supported in an engaging format and explored by the reader at their own pace.

Pages 15 and 16 of Germageddon Comic

Pain or Sleep?: The Sensory Gating Mechanism

A three-dimensional biomedical animation depicting persistent brain activity in pain patients and its central role in sleep disorder

Susan Park, 2009

Committee: G. Lavigne, L. Wilson-Pauwels, D. Mazierski, M. Corrin


Although pain and sleep disorder have been studied extensively in the past as separate topics, it is only in recent years that the interaction between pain and sleep disorder has gained attention. Research has now shown that interactions between pain and sleep are cyclical in nature: painful stimuli interfere with sleep, but disturbances in sleep also enhance the experience of pain.

It is this balance between the mechanisms that act ultimately to trigger a waking response or maintain sleep continuity.

Project Goals

  1. Design and implementation of new 3D brain activity animation models
  2. Information enrichment via split screen design

This project, which elucidates the role of sensory gating mechanism in chronic pain patients with sleep disorder may serve as an introduction to further research; targeting the mechanisms that excite or inhibit the gating mechanism may offer patients with chronic pain better management of their sleep quality. It will also place clinicians in a better position to humanely manage patients facing the twin burdens of chronic pain and chronically disrupted sleep.

Screen shot from animation showing information visualization of brain activity

Antigen Presentation by Class One Molecules of the Major Histocompatibility Complex

Diego Accorsi, 2011

Committee: N. Woolridge, D. Williams


Class one molecules of the major histocompatibility complex (MHC-1) are one of the body’s primary defences against viral infection. Static 2D/3D representations are often simplistic and do not accurately portray the dynamic and stochastic nature of the assembly process, which is carried out by the Peptide Loading Complex (PLC). Can 3D animation improve upon current visualization of MHC-1 assembly?

This project found that complexity can enhance learning by portraying scientific process with the added dimensions of time, motion, and 3D structure. Enhanced complexity, however, comes at the price of clarity. Finding the right balance between complexity and clarity is an area of research in biomedical communications that requires more attention.

My Osteoarthritis Pain Planner & Diary

Shelley Li Wen Chen, 2010

Committee: L. Wilson-Pauwels,


Osteoarthritis is the most common of all types of arthritis; it affects primarily the cartilage in various joints of the body including hands, feet, spine, hips, and knee, and has no known cure. There have been many studies concerning pain in osteoarthritis, however the relationship between pain and other variables such as fatigue, stress, and mood is still not completely understood.

The goal of “My Osteoarthritis Pain Planner & Diary” is to offer a more effective alternative to existing pain measurement instruments. Traditionally, pain diaries are paper-based documents, limiting both the description and analysis of pain. This research project attempts to address current limitations by providing patients with an interactive visual interface for describing their pain, and providing researchers with a more effective means of analyzing the variables that contribute to pain.

Two pages of the user interface for My OA Pain Planner

This web-based pain diary is designed for female osteoarthritis patients (approximate age range 55-65) to record their pain and weekly behavior. Diary entries take the form of timelines representing a 24-hour day to which patients add icons representing types of physical activity, medications, quality of sleep, mood, and fatigue. Patients also map out the intensity of their pain throughout the day.

Pain diary interface and pain variable interface

Researchers have the option of viewing the patient diary in single-day format or by choosing to view multiple days at once to make comparisons. By visualizing the data in this way, correlations and trends in patient behavior and relationships between variables that contribute to the intensity, duration, and quality of pain may be more readily apparent.


The Water-Energy Nexus

Kate Campbell, 2012

Committee: S. Wall, A. Hurley, A. Helfer, N. Woolridge


The topic of water needs to be raised with youth in order to foster an important and critical change. The project’s main objective is to create a comprehensive and visually rick interactive web-based lesson on a focused water topic for Canadian grade 8 students, which has been validated through formal testing and evaluation.

Pages in the Water-Energy Nexus

Incorporating multimedia in classroom education can improve grade 8 water literacy and influence students’ environmental awareness. Consideration for students’ level of prior knowledge and the types of media used is important to the successful development of educational resources.

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