With medical research making headlines every day, the new exhibit is especially timely
By the University at Buffalo
A video game version of “Sofia Learns About Research,” the children’s activity and coloring book that presents research in a fun, age-appropriate way, has arrived at Explore & More – The Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Children’s Museum.
“We are thrilled to welcome our newest exhibit and partner with the University at Buffalo,” said Michelle Urbanczyk, CEO of Explore & More. “This fun and immersive exhibit is timely, and our goal in sharing this with our visitors is to advance knowledge in what is clinical research and the importance of being a part of a study. Our visitors will see firsthand the process and learn about what role they can play in being a part of clinical research.”
The video game version of “Sofia” developed out of a multidisciplinary effort created by researchers at the University at Buffalo’s Clinical and Translational Science Institute (CTSI) to educate children and their parents about clinical research and how they themselves could be part of medical breakthroughs happening in Buffalo.
Both UB researchers and museum staff agreed that partnering on this project turned out to make tremendous sense.
“One of our seven educational play zones features a hospital and research lab designed for children to role-play some of these critical jobs in the community,” said Amelia Schrader, senior education manager at Explore & More. “The partnership with UB’s CTSI team was the perfect opportunity to further enhance our play research lab and focus on some of the amazing clinical research that is happening right here in Buffalo.”
Created in collaboration with the International Institute of Buffalo, the coloring book is available in English, Spanish and Arabic versions for free at the exhibit and through UB’s CTSI. It tells the story of Sofia, a little girl who has asthma. Sofia goes to the doctor with her dad and little brother, Michael, and together they learn about how, through clinical research, they might be able to help doctors find better treatments for the disease. The coloring book includes puzzles and activities, such as crack-the-code and connect-the-dots features.
Available since 2018, the “Sofia” coloring and activity book is all the more relevant in light of the increased interest in medical research as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Our goal has been for children and their parents to share in the excitement of the clinical research that has been going on in Buffalo for decades,” said Teresa Quattrin, M.D., UB Distinguished Professor and senior associate dean for research integration in the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at UB. Quattrin, an internationally renowned researcher who has directed multiple clinical trials at UB in pediatric endocrinology, led the CTSI team that developed the “Sofia” materials.
“Since the pandemic began, the increased public conversations around health and science are making this exhibit and all the ‘Sofia’ materials we’ve developed all that much more compelling,” she said. “We are pleased that we can help provide children and their parents with an educational and fun experience about medical research during this difficult time.”
Exhibit Encourages Parent-Child Interaction
The “Sofia Learns About Research” game is featured prominently in the front of the museum’s play research lab on the third floor. (The museum’s COVID-19 requirements mandate that all visitors wear masks and obey museum instructions, including social distancing.)
“The oversized touch screen is designed for a whole family to play together at once,” Schrader said. “With the child and caregiver working together, both will gain a deeper understanding of the importance of conducting and participating in clinical research.”
The video game exhibit is the latest development in the journey of “Sofia.” Most recently, the book was adapted for an interactive, web-based version on the CTSI website.
“Explore & More is continually building relationships with community partners to ensure we are highlighting the best of Buffalo and Western New York,” Schrader said. “We hope this is the first of many projects with the university.”
“And when children take home their free ‘Sofia Learns About Research’ books, the learning that occurs in the museum will be extended into the home,” she continued. “It is great that UB’s Clinical and Translational Science Institute is providing these books, available in three languages, supporting the museum’s pursuit of representing the diverse communities in our region.”
A key objective for the National Institutes of Health National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences, which funds the CTSI in Buffalo and centers like it throughout the U.S., is to improve health and reduce health care disparities in communities.
The video game was developed by Rochester-based video game company Workinman Interactive. The “Sofia” coloring book was co-written by Quattrin; Renee Cadzow, Ph.D., special populations task leader in the CTSI and adjunct assistant professor of pediatrics in the Jacobs School; and Alexandra Marrone, previously a research assistant, now a UB medical student. Isabella Bannerman, an award-winning cartoonist currently based out of New York City, did the illustrations, with graphic design by Tia Canonico.