The University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia
Welcome to Interactive Images of Disease
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List of Cases

Introduction and History

The Donald Wilhelm Museum of Human Disease is located on the ground floor of the Samuels Building within the University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia. The Museum was established in the early 1960s by Professor Donald Wilhelm, the Foundation Professor of Pathology at this University. Thanks to his foresight, and to the tireless efforts of Dr S.G. Higgins (the Museum Curator of longstanding), the Museum has been meticulously maintained and updated over the years to reflect the changing patterns of disease in our society. The Museum contains over 2,700 specimens (or "pots"), which display diseased human tissue at the macroscopic level. Specimens are obtained both from organs removed surgically and from tissue obtained at autopsy, where the natural history of disease is in full view. Please take note that some specimens of diseases which have become rare, e.g. diphtheria, are over 60 years old, and are irreplaceable. Each specimen is numbered and is accompanied by a clinical history (when known), a macroscopic description of the abnormalities displayed, and a histopathological description of changes at the microscopic level (where relevant). That information, specific to each of thirty areas (or "bays"), can be found in the Museum catalogues located in a bracket within each bay.

Information for Medical Students

All the specimens in the museum are arranged in one or other of two major groups. One group comprises collections of specimens according to pathological processes such as congenital, inflammation and healing, vascular, neoplasia etc. The second group comprises collections of specimens under organ systems, such as cardiovascular, central nervous, renal etc.

As responsible adults, we expect you to maintain decorum in the Museum at all times, behave with care and respect for the integrity of the specimens, and help to keep the Museum tidy at all times. This means no eating or drinking in the Museum and always returning specimens and catalogues to their allocated places. If you discover that a specimen is leaking or broken, follow the instructions listed in the safety notice below. Remember, the Museum is a precious learning resource, of which you are encouraged to make full use.

Security in the museum

It is a crime under the Human Tissue Act to steal or mistreat material preserved in the Museum or practical class laboratories. Anyone who contravenes the Act will be prosecuted, and may be considered by the N.S.W. Medical Board as not of sufficiently good character to be registered as a medical practitioner in this State.

In order to protect the collection of specimens, access to the Museum is restricted to students enrolled in Medicine during weekdays from 8 a.m. to approximately 8 p.m. The Museum is security locked, and can only be entered by using your student card to enable the doors to be opened.

Safety in the museum

  • Always handle museum specimens with care and respect. All specimens consist of generously donated human tissue.
  • The specimens are preserved in fixative solutions which contain a variety of toxic compounds:

  • Chemical                  Percentage Composition     
    Glycerol                         1.6 (v/v)           
    Saturated Camphor in             0.16 (v/v)          
    Sodium Acetate                   0.08 (w/v)          
    Formalin                         0.16 (v/v)          
    Sodium Dithionate                0.25 (w/v)          

  • For reasons of hygiene, never take food or drink into the museum.
  • Never leave a museum specimen on the floor, or in any precarious position.
  • If a specimen is leaking, turn it upside down to prevent further leakage, then immediately inform Mr A. Mitchell (Museum Technical Officer) or a member of academic staff.
  • If a specimen is broken, do not attempt to wipe up the spillage. Use the kitty litter provided to absorb the fumes, then clear the area and immediately inform Mr A. Mitchell or a member of academic staff.
  • Remember, the museum is here for your benefit - your cooperation in maintaining neatness and safety at all times is appreciated.
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    Museum Development


    The Museum contains over 2,700 specimens, which display diseased tissue at the macroscopic level, preserved in formalin. Specimens are obtained from organs removed surgically or from tissue obtained at autopsy, where the natural history of disease is in full view. The collection has been conservatively valued at over $2,000,000.

    Since 1996, the role of the Museum of Human Disease has been expanded to include the education of senior high school science/biology students and community interest groups (of 10 or more people), with an emphasis on the prevention of common diseases. Visitors are given a supervised two hour multimedia program, including a tour of the Museum, video presentation, microscopic examples of disease and an introduction to the School’s computer assisted learning facilities. The addition of a Museum Manager (Mr Lansdown), Museum Assistant (Ms Cato) and full-time technical officer (Mr Mitchell) have helped to make these visits possible.

    The information in the Museum catalogues at present contains a large number of medical terms that would be incomprehensible to non-medical visitors. The catalogues have been painstakingly updated and illustrated to become understandable and interesting to the wider community. In this regard, our efforts have received support in the form of a grant from Glaxo Wellcome Australia, whom we gratefully acknowledge.

    Assessment of proposed developments

    Utilisation of the Museum of Human Disease is documented by a register of all groups and individuals who visit the Museum. All group leaders are asked to respond to a questionnaire at the completion of their visit. The questionnaire will ask users to rate their knowledge of common diseases prior to their visit, and to rate the Museum as a means of increasing their awareness and understanding of disease and its prevention. A key question will be put regarding whether visitors are likely to change their attitudes, behaviour or lifestyle as a consequence of this experience. Further questions will ask for comments and suggested improvements regarding the Museum displays (including major themes), catalogues, guided tours, video presentations and amenities. Responses to the questionnaires will be rigorously analysed and acted upon, so that there will be quality assurance of the Museum's utility for educating the community.

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    Hot Links to Other Pathology Sites:

    Pathweb, University of Connecticut's Virtual Pathology Museum - a searchable database of macroscopic images, together with clinicopathological correlation.

    WebPath (University of Utah) - an excellent site for medical students and postgraduate trainees. Contains a cornucopia of images and case studies in general and systemic Pathology as well as laboratory medicine.

    Leicester University - Virtual Autopsy - a series of autopsy cases, where medical students are asked to determine the likely cause of death.

    University of Pittsburgh - also an excellent site, with case studies and accompanying images.

    University of Illinois - the Urbana atlas of Pathology - images galore!

    Introduction poster1.jpg (6116 bytes) Interactive Images!
    Museum Visits Hot Links

    Page maintained by: Dr Gary Velan
    Ph: +612 9385-1278
    Fax: +612 9385-1389
    Last modified: 01/11/2013


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