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  • Writer's pictureMarcelo Oliver

Polycystic Kidney Model : From Concept to Production

 Our goal for our clients is always to produce the highest quality, highest educational value product within a reasonable budget. When the final outcome is recognized and honored by our peers, the Association of Medical Illustrators, the experience is even more rewarding. We were honored to receive the AMI Award of Merit at the Salon in this year's annual conference. See our online salon entry here or view the entire online salon

Award of Merit in the Models, Simulators Category at the AMI annual conference
ADPKD Kidney Model by Body Scientific International at AMI Conference

Final ADPKD Kidney Model on display at Salon

We began this project as we begin most projects, with some sketches and a conversation. We have some great contacts and mediators in the pharmaceutical industry, so many clients know the effort that goes into BSI projects and move forward with trust. Marcelo’s connections with overseas manufacturing allows for ease of communication and the most up-to-date regulations and best practices in producing large volume models. His international expertise is one of the many reasons client's reach out to Marcelo to create custom models.

Early Concept Sketch by Marcelo Oliver
Early Concept Sketch by Marcelo Oliver

Early mockup sketch by Carolina Hrejsa

Autosomal dominant polycystic kidney disease (ADPKD) is an inherited disease in which fluid-filled cysts develop on the kidney, which over time damages functional tissue. Other complications develop as the kidney cannot perform its filtration as efficiently.

With the kidneys deeply hidden inside the body, most practitioners (besides surgeons) and patients have not ever seen a polycystic kidney. The relative size difference is shocking. Sometimes a shock factor is necessary to get the message across to a patient that may be at high risk for developing the disease. Managing the disease and preventing further progression is always the goal, and if a patient holds a polycystic kidney in their hand, they may just listen and adhere to their doctor’s orders.

Early artwork panel concept, displaying normal-sized kidney with a larger mid-stage polycystic kidney

Prior to our model, we were aware of a silicone-based polycystic kidney model in the industry, showing varying degrees of disease progression. This model was beautiful, and accurately portrays texture, size, weight, and feel of polycystic kidneys. However, the cost and materials of this model is not conducive to mass production and distribution among urologists. This is where our client came in, with a request to create an educational piece, affordable to distribute to many healthcare providers in the industry. The client wanted an educational product that showcases a diseased kidney (life size), compared it to a healthy kidney and had relevant disease information for both patient and prescriber.

Marcelo often combines models with stands that include a back display panel or pull-out tabs. The client's final piece will be dependent on the amount of information to be displayed.

Early concepts for display panels at the back of the model stand

Although BSI has access and knowledge in 3D software, we specialize in the creative and accurate content and left the manufacturing company with the task of producing the 3D model. They have their own talented staff on hand and with some back and forth guidance we were able to achieve the look we were going for with the accuracy that was required. As you can see, we went from 2D concept art to 3D model with ease. Most companies have evolved with the times to create models started with a digital model that is 3D-printed as a test run. As little as a decade ago, the model would be sculpted into clay. The industry is adapting to the digital world. Communicating and implementing revisions via a digital model has become the preferred method of sculpting. Rather than viewing photographs of the model or visiting on-site, the client can now send an .STL file and we can view all angles of the model to provide feedback in minutes.

2D Illustration by Carolina Hrejsa, converted into 3D model in Zbrush
2D Illustration by Carolina Hrejsa, converted into 3D model in Zbrush

.STL file as review source to view all angles and make revision requests
An .STL file is used as a review source to view all angles and make revision requests

Once a final 3D-model has been approved, a 3D-printed model is generated for both the design team (Body Scientific) and the client to be able to feel the product in their hand and visualize the product on the display stand. Although we are visual people and can imagine the final outcome, it is important that the client can follow the design process and feel comfortable moving forward with each step. Additionally, it is a last minute chance to make any final requests or revisions. Once the factory creates a steel mold, the final shape will not allow for any changes.

Prototype model 3D-printed for approval to create original cast for steel mold

3D-printed prototype on early version of stand

The pharma industry is a unique one in that all aspects of the project must go through rigorous medical, legal, and internal review processes and follow strict standards and requirements. We make sure all of our references are well chosen and organized for best content development. And we work with internal departments and outside agencies, in this case, CDM New York, which had already developed content for collateral polycystic kidney products that were already approved through the intensive review process.

Final specs of ADPKD Model project after dozens of revisions and rigorous approval process

Now that the model concept and prototype have been approved, we have the expectation to produce a final model (at large quantitites!) that matches exactly the specs that have been accepted. A big challenge with the project is the manufacturing industry is used to opaque paint and simple paint-by-number type application. Marcelo knew that airbrushing the models would be a challenge but necessary to achieve the desired effect, of somewhat transparent cysts with very thin walls.

Lolipop kidneys, trying to figure out the color and painted effects

From opaque paint to airbrush effect on hand-painted polycystic kidney models

Also the crew requires a very minimal color palette as they mix colors and follow a recipe, similar to PANTONE color system to achieve a uniform and consistent color palette. How can we achieve a wide range of color and looks with a minimal color palette. Although we can communicate with the manufacturing partner easily through Skype and WhatsApp, Marcelo hopped on a plane, as he usually does, to go to the factory in person and make sure they understand the process. While he is there, might as well paint one or two samples as reference guides for the talented workers to follow.

Marcelo hand-painting a reference sample in factory in Taiwan
Marcelo hand-painting a reference sample in factory in Taiwan

Coming up with a limited color palette for hand-mixing paint in factory

Once the color is in place, there is the decision of shine. How glossy or matte does the final product need to be? A protective coating is necessary and a few options are applied to see which has the desired outcome, after all, a polycystic kidney should have a wet sheen.

Determining gloss application and comparing natural (outdoor) lighting and diffuse indoor lighing
Determining gloss application and comparing natural (outdoor) lighting and diffuse indoor lighing

Everyone in the production line has a specific task, in this case, the base will be painted opaque following the reference sample. The final airbrushing technique is applied by more skilled artists that have experience with consistency and reproducibility.

Opaque model on the left and airbrushed and glossed model on the right

Details of airbrush technique on cysts

Our client and the industry has been so pleased with the final outcome, we are happy to announce they placed a second order. Not only will the model be distributed to more healthcare professionals, but also polycystic kidney disease will be a more accessible topic. Sparking patient-doctor conversation and overall increasing the knowledge in the community of an otherwise not well-understood disease.

Marcelo, Carolina, and Lik (Team Bodyscientific) would like to thank everyone who worked so diligently on this project including Michelle M, Remya C, Erin M, Steve H, Charles H, Tiffany H, Nelson T, Micheal F, Jason G, Kevin G, Sean H, Claire M.

Read more about our educational promotional services here.

If you are interested in Marcelo's guidance for creating a custom model for your educational and promotional needs, please contact us today. We enjoy bringing concepts to fruition and into the marketplace.

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