Something pretty spectacular and interesting is happening in the world of online access as the Digitised Diseases project website goes live tomorrow night (09/12/13) with a grand opening at the Royal College of Surgeons of England in London. This means that a grand total of around 1600 scanned human skeletal specimens will be made available to researchers and the public to view for free. The aim of the project is ‘to create a web-accessible archive of photo-realistic digital 3D models of pathological type-specimens’ from human remains (source).
The project is using the latest in 3D laser scanning, high resolution photograph and CT scans to provide free examples of palaeopathologies that affected the skeletal anatomy. The populations that are represented by the skeletal series used to illustrate the various traumas and diseases will include individuals from a variety of archaeological contexts from England, including late Medieval and more modern 18th and 19th century contexts. The team that is spearheading the project is largely based at the archaeology department at the University of Bradford with support coming from the Royal College of Surgeons of England, who are based in London. One of the main reasons for initiating the project was the poor state and bone quality of the pathological examples, so by creating an online depository, which is free to access, it is hoped that the knowledge can be spread far and wide whilst the bones themselves can be preserved and maintained.
The popular Digitised Diseases blog for the project has been up and running for a while now and it is currently helping to showcase examples of scanned bones with clinical descriptions and case histories of their various maladies. It is a fantastic site and well worth a visit. Once the proper site is up and running I can imagine that it will be extremely popular with human osteologists, medical historians and archaeologists. It will be the perfect site to quickly log and compare an example of a suspected pathology right in front of you with one recorded properly and scanned on the site. I am also looking forward to seeing what impact this will have on other academic institutions and whether the site will evolve to contain further pathological examples, perhaps some prehistoric ones or examples on other hominins.
On a side note the Royal College of Surgeons of England’s base in London is also home to the Wellcome Museum of Anatomy and Pathology and the Hunterian Museum, two excellent museums that document and present the value of human osteology and soft tissue pathology to a wide audience.
The website is now live and the available models are excellent! It is a fantastic resource for learning about the trauma and disease process and the effects that they can have on human bone. I have only just started to play around with the live beta version of the website and there are quite a few of the models that are currently unavailable to view. I expect that this will change in the upcoming days and weeks as this project becomes fully live.
Below is a quick screen shot of an adult individual (sex undetermined) who presents with a surgical trepannation on the left parietal bone, quite something! I did have difficulty zooming into the model as my laptop lacks a 3 buttoned mouse.
I am looking forward to investigating Digitised Diseases in further detail as it is a great resource, openly available to everyone to investigate pathological bone changes and the effects of disease, trauma and surgical procedures on human skeletal remains. The models can be viewed online, as I did (see above), or can be downloaded and used at your pleasure. Please remember to cite the program where it has been used in research.
- Digitised Diseases Live beta version.
- Digitised Diseases blog site.
- Guardian article on the project (08/12/13).
- Hunterian Museum (a large and varied selection of human and animal bone is on display).
- Wellcome Museum of Anatomy and Pathology (please note you do need to be either an independent researcher or be affiliated with an academic institution to gain access to this medical museum).