The Desnos Medal: “Protecting the legacy of urology”

An interview with the fifth curator of the AUA’s William P. Didusch Center for Urologic History

By Loek Keizer

The EAU History Office is proud to award Prof. Michael E. Moran (US) the 2020/21 Ernest Desnos Medal for his extraordinary contributions to the field of urological history. Mike Moran is a Professor of Urology at the University of South Carolina and was curator of the American Urological Association’s William P. Didusch Center for Urologic History for ten years, recently stepping down from the position.

It was for his work as the Didusch Center’s curator and his own achievements in the field that the EAU is honouring Prof. Moran, joining earlier winners like medical historian Prof. Sergio Musitelli and the Karl Storz endoscope company.

Can you tell us about your work as curator?
“The AUA, just like the EAU and other medical societies, has always had a historical collection of artifacts. From its foundation in 1902, there were urologists collecting. In 1909, they organised a literal museum at the AUA headquarters in Baltimore. Bill Didusch was the first curator, and the museum was subsequently named after him.”

“The AUA was always loosely affiliated with Johns Hopkins, from its earliest days. Artifacts were being accumulated by Hugh Hampton Young himself. We have a lot of early stuff from that time. Throughout the 1920s and 30s the collection grew as people started donating their own collections. We have early transurethral instruments, early batteries and the first incandescent cystoscope bulbs. We also have more general items like early microscopes.”

“Every year we receive donations from retiring or deceased colleagues. We also sometimes receive remarkable items from non-urologists. For example, we have the only existing prototype of the Wales cystoscope, which was made by surgeon general during civil war. By accepting these donations we’re doing our part to protect the legacy of American urology, and European urology too, as we own several items from the UK, Germany and the Netherlands, among others.”

“As a curator, I would of course maintain items, and manage the collection. After more than a century, it’s quite a large collection of instruments and books. The whole AUA headquarters has display cases. It’s great to keep history palpable. People can come visit and indeed we’ve had high schools or college students come by to learn about medical history or do an internship on curating.”

“My immediate predecessor Reiner Engel had close ties with Europe because of his German background. One of my goals when I took over, was affiliating with more international societies, hoping that they would start museums of their own. Finances are always the limiting factor, running a museum can get expensive!”

What kind of developments did you see over the course of your ten-year tenure?
“Since I started, we’ve seen more emphasis on information technology to manage and share our collection, of course. We also have to make a concerted effort to attract new people to take an interest in history. We set up a prize, the Retrospectoscope Award to encourage historical research.”

“The manhours required for inputting data and maintaining the site are a large cost. Industry funding is also controlled more strictly than it used to be. With the worldwide pandemic, museums are really taking it on the chin. At the moment the curator position is vacant, apart from when a themed exhibition is held at the AUA’s annual congress.”

“The collection is going to continue to grow from donations and acquisitions. But unfortunately we do miss out on occasion, when collections are being sold piecemeal, and we simply cannot compete with private buyers. That’s always difficult.”

Over the years you’ve always contributed to the EAU’s historical publications. Will you continue writing now that your tenure as curator is finished?
“Yes, I have several books in the pipeline that I now have more time for. A new one that will soon be coming out: Vital Signs: History and Physical, on the history of the physical exam and how it’s changed. I’ve also nearly finished a “History of Genius” and the impact on medical history. I’m working on a book on the history of international urology meetings, from when they first started in the early twentieth century. I’m also working on a comprehensive, updated history of urology (two volumes) that I think our field is long overdue.”

What are your thoughts on winning the EAU’s Ernest Desnos Medal?
“I’m overwhelmed to win this prize! The first book I bought as a urology resident was the Desnos- Murphy book History of Urology. Anything affiliated with that name, it’s overwhelming to me. I never expected to win a prize named after Desnos. The people who won before me, they’re titans in the field. I can think of so many people deserving of this recognition, over me.”