A unique online resource bringing together some 1,600 specimens of diseased human bones into a single digital collection will offer trainee medics, clinicians and medical historians around the world the chance to study in detail the effects of chronic diseases on bone.
The specimens, currently housed in major archaeological and medical collections across the UK, have been digitised and collated into a single online educational resource.
This offers the opportunity for researchers to study a wealth of specimens in one place, including samples that would otherwise be too fragile to handle. It will also be a valuable resource for students and researchers in countries that do not have access to bone collections, or where the study of real human remains is restricted.
The Digitised Diseases web resource launches today at the Royal College of Surgeons in London and contains 3D models of bones affected by over 90 chronic pathological conditions. These range from common complaints such as osteoarthritis, and osteoporosis, to rare bone cancers, skeletal trauma and conditions that are often considered to be diseases of poverty in the modern world, such as tuberculosis and polio.
The resource, created by the University of Bradford and Jisc, brings together world-renowned skeletal collections including the university’s own archaeological skeletons housed in the Biological Anthropology Research Centre (BARC); historic medical specimens housed in the Hunterian Museum and the Wellcome Museum of Anatomy and Pathology at the Royal College of Surgeons in London; and human remains excavated by the Museum of London Archaeology (MOLA).
The bones have been digitised using a combination of 3D laser scanning, CT and radiography, providing a unique opportunity for students and researchers all over the world to examine both the internal and external changes caused by chronic diseases. The models are accompanied by descriptions and broader clinical synopses of these conditions.
Lead researcher, Dr Andrew Wilson from the University of Bradford, said:
“This is a fantastic teaching aid. Many of the conditions included in the digital collection are still seen by clinicians around the world; however the age of these bones means that they came from individuals who were alive before effective medical therapies were available and so offer the chance to show how these diseases progress if left untreated.”
The project will safeguard fragile specimens in these collections used for teaching that have until now been susceptible to damage from handling and provide a 3D digital model in the case of archaeological remains under threat of reburial.
Paola Marchionni, programme manager at Jisc, said:
“Digitised Diseases builds on the successful pilot digitisation project - From Cemetery to Clinic - where the University of Bradford developed methods to create photo-realistic 3D digital models of bones affected by leprosy excavated from a medieval leprosy hospital in Chichester. The team has now taken this approach further by setting up new partnerships, broadening the scope of the collections to include other chronic diseases that affect the skeleton and experimenting with innovative ways of delivering these models online.
The opportunity for clinicians, trainee medics and medical historians to look back in time at archaeological remains in order to aid modern medical understanding will, we hope, prove invaluable.”
The Digitised Diseases project has been funded by Jisc and undertaken by a multidisciplinary team of researchers from the Biological Anthropology Research Centre and the Centre for Visual Computing at the University of Bradford and project partners MOLA and the Royal College of Surgeons of England in London, with further support from Pinderfields Hospital, Chelsea and Westminster Hospital and Smith & Nephew. Associate partners Museum of London, Historic Scotland, National Museum of Scotland, York Archaeological Trust, Yorkshire Museum and York Minster also provided additional specimens for digitisation.