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Digitised Diseases website allows users to see the bones of the past

Digitised Diseases, a new online resource being launched today, will offer medical experts, archaeologists and historians the chance to view over 1,600 bone specimens with chronic diseases. The specimens, currently housed in major archaeological and medical collections across the United Kingdom, include many which date back to the Middle Ages.

Digitised Diseases

The Digitised Diseases website contains 3D models of bones affected by over 90 chronic pathological conditions ranging from osteoarthritis to rare bone cancers, skeletal trauma and tuberculosis. The bones have been digitised using a combination of 3D laser scanning, CT and radiography. The models are accompanied by descriptions and broader clinical synopses of these conditions.

Created by the University of Bradford and Jisc, the resource had access to bone remains from a wide number of areas, including bones from the site of the Battle of Towton, fought in 1461; the cemetery of a 12th-century hospital in Chichester that treated leprosy, and a cemetery in Gloucester where hundreds of people were buried between 1246 and 1539.

The project blog takes a look at individual cases, such as the selected bones from the spine of an individual from Hereford Cathedral who suffered from Klippel-Feil Syndrome, which causes parts of the vertebrae to fuse together.

Paola Marchionni, programme manager at Jisc, explained that “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.”

Lead researcher, Dr Andrew Wilson from the University of Bradford, added, “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.”

Click here to visit the Digitised Diseases website

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