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Virtual Microscope - Histology and Histopathology

Project Leader: David Male

Project Partners: The Royal Society of Medicine (RSM), University College London Hospital (UCLH),  The Institute of Ophthalmology  (IoO), De Montfort University (DMU), Leicester General Infirmary (LGI), Milton Keynes NHS Trust

Project overview and objectives

The Virtual Microscope is an on-line instrument that emulates the functions of a real microscope. By presenting different sets of annotated slides, it can be used to teach biological and biomedical sciences as well as microscopy.  This project assembled a collection of 320 slides from the project partners, and from University and Hospital collections, to produce 12 slide sets to teach histology and histopathology. The material is intended primarily for undergraduates and post-graduates, although some of the slides form the basis of new teaching units for A-level students. The microscope is embedded within the OpenScience laboratory and is accompanied by teaching materials in OpenLearn. In order to make the content more accessible and to fit with other units in the OpenScience laboratory, it was decided to reprogram the virtual microscope in HTML-5, retaining all of the content; This makes the microscope also accessible on a wider range of devices, including I-pads and tablets. The image repository is at the Wellcome Trust.

Microscopy, histology and histopathology are included in all degree programmes for biomedical scientists and medical practitioners in the UK. Microscopy and histology are also components of A-levels and most degrees in biological sciences. However there is a progressive move away from conventional lab-based teaching of these subjects for two main reasons.
• The cost of maintaining microscopes and slide collections is high and it is argued that microscopy is one practical subject that can be transferred to computer-based learning.
• At a professional level, histological images are increasingly viewed on-screen using image-viewer programmes, either directly from a microscope or remotely.
For these reasons, students often get a limited experience of microscopy and when histology is taught in a laboratory with a real microscope, they are using just the slide-sets that are available at their own institution. These collections are often excellent, but may be dated or limited in scope. However, older collections can sometimes include diseases that are dying out and are rarely, if ever, seen in modern medical practice.  Conversely, material from hospital collections is often technically excellent, includes tissue that would be used for diagnosis (biopsies etc) but it may be less comprehensive in covering some areas of pathology.
The on-line teaching package was designed to address a number of these limitations:
• By allowing students to view slides through a microscope interface, they provide a more realistic experience of how they would work using a real instrument.
• They include a mixture of pathological (post-mortem) and diagnostic tissues.
• The collection is broader than is normally held in any one institution.
• Teaching material is built into the slide annotations, which provides the equivalent experience of having a demonstrator on-hand.
• Institutions such as schools, which cannot obtain human tissues can access materials.
• Rare, but conceptually important slides can be made widely available.
• The resource is free, and can be accessed by anyone with a computer and internet.

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