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$1.3 Million Grant Funds Films for Health Literacy at DU

Dr. John Archie Pollock, associate professor of biological sciences at Duquesne University, wants to help people understand the biology of their own bodies so that they can discuss their health more comprehensively with doctors.

Duquesne University has received a $1.3 million Science Education Partnership Award from the National Center for Research Resources, a division of the National Institutes of Health, to help Pollock and his collaborators meet that goal. Through August 2010, the team will produce science films that will improve what Pollock calls “health literacy,” the general public’s understanding of how our bodies work.

“You don’t need a degree in medicine to be able to have a meaningful conversation with your doctor,” Pollock said. “I believe that we can help both patients and caregivers learn how to communicate more effectively, how to ask the right questions, and how to use the right language—and how to listen without being scared.” Pollock describes his films as highlighting the scientific process and exploring how basic research is turned into everyday medicine.

“The future of medicine is regenerative medicine, where the goal is to help the body heal itself,” Pollock said.

The first film to be funded with the new grant will focus on bone healing and will target volunteers in osteoporosis studies at the University of Pittsburgh, General Clinical Research Center, Montefiore University Hospital. The film’s driving force is that patients–and volunteers–generally have a hard time talking to doctors and understanding information they need. The upcoming production will fill this gap with a short DVD that volunteers can take home and replay until they absorb the information. Films and other material presented in a visual format are easier to understand than the often-technical reading material provided by doctors and pharmacists, according to Pollock.

Pollock’s other upcoming film projects will be aimed at specific age groups, including young leaders, 4 to 6 years old, and K-12. Supplemental educational information for students of different ages will be posted online, and activities and guides will be available for teachers. Pollock plans to bring back to the screen Dr. Emily Allevable, an animated character his team developed for previous productions on tissue engineering. Dr. Allevable guides children through scientific information in an encouraging manner. The hallmark of Pollock’s work has been making complex issues, such as tissue engineering and how the brain works, understandable and interesting to children and adults by using visual artistry, original music and engaging dialogue.

“I want to bring the research into focus for everyone, even children,” Pollock said. “You would be amazed at how much children can and do understand, especially if you take the time to get on their level.”

Within the next nine months, Pollock anticipates that his team will hit full stride, producing three to four films a year. Each film will make its world premier at The Carnegie Science Center’s Henry Buhl Jr. Planetarium, where Pollock’s previous works have debuted.

“The Carnegie Science Center has been pleased to work with Dr. John Pollock on several projects designed to bring cutting-edge biology to the general public, in fun and interactive presentations that communicated some fairly complicated science in a clear and accessible fashion,” said John Radzilowicz, director of visitor experience at The Carnegie Science Center. “We expect that these shows will continue to be popular with both school and public audiences that are anxious to learn the latest science in a fun and engaging way.”

Pollock’s team crosses the borders of institutions and disciplines, involving students, professors and experts from Duquesne’s Bayer School of Natural and Environmental Sciences, Duquesne’s McAnulty College and Graduate School of Liberal Arts, The Carnegie Science Center and the STUDIO for Creative Inquiry at Carnegie Mellon University. They will bring expertise in science, education, music, journalism and multimedia, computer sciences, theology and medical ethics to produce scientifically accurate, musically scored animated films that make critical health points clear to adults and children.

“Many of our students, both undergraduate and graduate, engage in faculty-driven projects, but what makes this unique is the cross-disciplinary involvement of students from different schools and academic programs, bringing unique skills and perspectives to a common project,” said Dr. David W. Seybert, dean of the Bayer School of Natural and Environmental Sciences.

“It’s allowing the theoretical and the practical to come together between the two schools said Dr. Francesco Cesareo, dean of the McAnulty College and Graduate School of Liberal Arts. “It’s really an exciting opportunity for the college to be involved in a National Center for Research Resources grant, in a discipline where that is not the norm. It opens up a new opportunity for the faculty and students in these departments.”

Pollock has directed and produced animated science education films over the last 10 years. The films are entering a second run at The Carnegie Science Center and have been shown at about 50 other planetariums. They are being distributed in Europe and soon could be available in local video stores.

Duquesne University

Founded in 1878, Duquesne is consistently ranked among the nation's top Catholic universities for its award-winning faculty and tradition of academic excellence. Duquesne, a campus of nearly 9,500 graduate and undergraduate students, has been nationally recognized for its academic programs, community service and commitment to sustainability. Follow Duquesne University on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
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