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The Arts and Medicine
December 13, 2016

New Frontiers of Medical Illustration

Author Affiliations
  • 1Senior Medical Illustrator, JAMA, Chicago, Illinois; and Department of Biomedical Visualization, University of Illinois at Chicago
JAMA. 2016;316(22):2340-2341. doi:10.1001/jama.2016.17728

Artists have been studying and sketching the human body for hundreds of years to master visual representation of the human form, and physicians have long relied on drawn interpretations of anatomy and science to learn their profession and to disseminate research findings to the medical community. Now, however, the term medical illustration may actually be a misnomer. Static illustration is still a highly relevant visual communication format, but the community of medical illustrators now includes animators, modelers, user experience designers, multimedia specialists, art directors, and other visualizers of medicine and science. Many work regularly with visualization software that takes advantage of digital imaging techniques used by physicians. For example, data from magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and computed tomography (CT) obtained from physicians or anonymized data banks can be opened, viewed, and edited in a matter of minutes in a 3-dimensional environment such as the OsiriX DICOM viewer to get a clear image of live human anatomy. This technique is an invaluable resource for visualizing anatomy and gross pathologies from every angle, and it is no longer necessary to be directly affiliated with a hospital facility, as medical illustrators historically have been, to peek inside the human body.

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