UNSW Sydney launches virtual Museum of Human Disease


Staff at the Museum of Human Disease at UNSW Sydney have used their lockdown time wisely, by creating a virtual version of their collection of real organs and body parts, which constitute the only publicly accessible medical pathology collection in Australia. It homes 2500+ specimens like lungs, brains and body tissue that have been affected by disease.

The virtual exhibit comes with a warning – it ain’t pretty – but as Museum Director Mr Derek Williamson points out, there’s no better time to understand how diseases like cancer, heart disease and obesity affect the body.

“It’s so important to understand how diseases work – especially during a pandemic,” says Mr Williamson. “By learning more about past outbreaks and how they affect the body, we can also learn why some diseases are coming back.”

The museum was started in 1959 by UNSW’s first professor of pathology, Donald Wilhelm. Back then, the specimens were used as training resources to help future doctors recognise and understand disease.

“There weren’t blood tests for most diseases in those days,” says Mr Williamson. “If a doctor wanted to know what was going on inside a person, they had to open them up and work it out from there.”

The museum has since opened its doors to the general public, and is still used as a training resource for medical students. It also runs school tours – up to 12,000 high school students visit it each year. Again to reiterate that warning, the displays can have significant impact on visitors.

“We’ve had people visit the museum as smokers but leave as non-smokers. They’ve contacted us – months later – to say that the display stuck with them. This is the power of objects. Seeing the real thing can help bring home the anti-smoking messages they’ve seen elsewhere.

“We hope that the museum – and now, the virtual museum – can help more people learn about their bodies, how they can be affected by disease, and how to best look after them.”

Tickets to the virtual museum are currently free for UNSW students and staff, while for all other visitors, entry is by donation to support the work of the museum – $5 is suggested. It works on all devices and is VR-enabled, but performance will depend on your device and internet access. Tickets can be booked here via Eventbrite.

For the launch month only (until the end of June) you can select a free ticket option valid for that day only. If you’re up for it…

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