The University of Bradford has secured almost £750,000 for a project to safeguard skeletons from world-renowned collections in the city and London.

The project, funded by the Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC), will use 3D laser scanning, CT scans and high-resolution photography to create an online archive of photo-realistic 3D models of pathological type-specimens.

Historical illustrations and new clinical descriptions will also be used to turn the skeleton collections, which have restricted access, into a unique educational tool.

It will be used by various professionals including clinicians, medical trainees, medical historians, archaeologists, osteologists and palaeopathologists, as well as enriching the public understanding of anatomy and medical science.

Project leader Dr Andrew Wilson, lecturer in archaeological sciences at the university, said: “The project will also play a crucial role in conserving a resource that is otherwise under threat from damage.

“Pathological specimens are often the most handled bones within skeletal collections and yet they are also the most fragile.

“Archaeological and historical skeletal collections are important because they offer the opportunity to observe pathologies in an era before effective therapy.

“The University of Bradford, Museum of London Archaeology and Royal College of Surgeons of England house internationally important skeletal collections and each will be providing pathological type-specimens for the project.”

The project, which began in November and will be completed by July 2013, is a collaboration between Archaeological Sciences and the Centre for Visual Computing at the University of Bradford and project partners Museum of London Archaeology and the Royal College of Surgeons of England.

Paola Marchionni, programme manager at JISC, said: “Digitised Diseases builds on the successful JISC-funded pilot digitisation From Cemetery to Clinic, where the University of Bradford experimented with 3D digitisation of bones affected by leprosy.

“The team has now taken this approach further by setting up new partnerships, broadening the scope of the collections to include other chronic diseases and experimenting with innovative ways of delivering the models online.

“This project promises to have a wide-ranging impact by opening up access to material that has been so far the preserve of bona fide researchers. The opportunity for pathologists to look back in time at archaeological remains in order to make assertions about future illness will, we hope, prove invaluable.”