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UI researcher's work featured on PBS's "NOVA" Feb. 2

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- The fight against AIDS has gained a powerful weapon. Jose Assouline, Ph.D., University of Iowa neurovirologist in the department of pharmacology, has developed a new 3-D software package to attack the disease from its onset, through education and prevention. The software will be showcased on the next episode of "NOVA," which airs Feb. 2 at 7 p.m. on PBS.

Created in collaboration with the UI Image Analysis Center, the computer program uses interactive three-dimensional models to teach students -- junior high through medical school -- various aspects of the disease, such as contraction methods, progression into and out of the cell and the variety of treatment options available.

Prompted and encouraged by recent advances in computer technology and long-distance communications, Assouline decided it was time for something new. "The text-based, 2-D format is becoming outdated," he said.

Assouline's strategy behind the development of the software follows two main thrusts: Incorporation into the medical school curriculum to make retention of material easier and to produce a fun, game-like simulation which will entice students even at an early age to get interested in the science behind the disease.

Assouline stresses the need to inform kids about the dangers of the disease. "If you look at the statistics today, the fastest rising segment of the population at risk are teenagers and young adults," Assouline said. "Coincidentally, these are people who have grown up with a Nintendo in their hands. They are very visually-oriented and quite comfortable using computers."

Using the latest in computer technology, Assouline and his team created a hands-on approach to learning about the virus. The program offers several ways to explore the lifecycle of the disease and how the infection progresses. Students can watch 3-D animation of cell infection, graphically construct the viral infection and, after moving through the tutorial mode, take an interactive, game-like quiz on the information presented.

Very little text is needed due to the detailed graphic support. "You don't need words and retain more if you have animation," Assouline said. As a bonus, the information can be updated at any time as AIDS discoveries occur.

Assouline, research investigator and director of educational software development and informatics at the UI College of Medicine, has been working on the software for the past six years. A 17-year veteran of AIDS research, Assouline's focus is the progression of neurotropic viruses, or viruses which attack human brain cells. HIV works in this way, infecting human cells' RNA then producing new viral particles which propagate the infection.

Assouline hopes the "NOVA" episode will lead to future exhibits at science museums and interest from companies that develop digital technology. With an increased base of technical and financial support, Assouline hopes to create more interactive software devoted to the teaching of medical sciences.

An online version of the "NOVA" presentation featuring Assouline's work can be found at

NOTE TO EDITORS: Animation and graphics are available for reproduction for print or television news. For more information, contact Assouline at (319) 353-5631.