U of A announces partnership with labs to provide students with synthetic cadavers

(Rachel Nemeh/DD)
SynDaver Labs President Christopher Sakezles and U of A College of Medicine — Phoenix simulation education director Teresa Wu demonstrate a medical procedure on the lab’s synthetic cadaver. (Rachel Nemeh/DD)

Students preparing for medical professions will get an extra hand thanks to a partnership between the University of Arizona’s College of Medicine — Phoenix and a state-of-the-art synthetic cadaver lab.

Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton, U of A College of Medicine — Phoenix Dean Stuart Flynn and SynDaver Labs president and founder Christopher Sakezles were all present for the official announcement on Wednesday. Demonstrations of the new synthetic cadavers in the Arizona Center for Simulation and Experiential Learning in the Health Sciences Education Building accompanied the announcement.

The synthetic cadavers will replace the live animals, cadavers and human patients currently used in clinical training and surgical simulations. These simulations let students experience the “real world” feel of emergency and operating rooms, allowing them to put to use the skills they’ve acquired in school and internships.

Students and faculty said they expect the changeover to more advanced technology will make the transition from class to hospital more fluid.

“This collaboration places our college on a trajectory as a national leader among elite medical schools in simulation technology,” Flynn said.

SynDaver Labs makes its specimens out of medical grade, synthetic human tissue made from saltwater fiber, Sakezles said. The synthetic cadavers are more similar to living human flesh than anything on the market, he added. SynDaver Labs’ cadavers can respond to MRIs, ultrasounds, laser scalpels, X-rays and other medical procedures, while dummies like those made from silicon can’t, Sakezles said.

While the dummies students have used in the past do rank closer to actual human cadavers than to the cardboard patient from the board game “Operation,” they still fall short in comparison to the SynDaver Labs cadavers, Sakezles said.

While the older dummies could speak with doctors, simulate breath and pulse and even vomit, the experience with them was still too different from dealing with any living patient, said Tersea Wu, director of simulation education at the medical school.

A basic SynDaver Labs cadaver –- with full muscular and skeletal anatomy, organs, and a circulatory system — laid on a stretcher next to Stanton, Flynn and Sakezles during the announcement.

Sakezles used a tablet with a wireless interface to control the motions of the cadaver’s heart and its breathing. By controlling the synthetic cadaver’s arms and legs with the tablet, the user can simulate the way humans convulse when in severe pain or having a seizure.

Second-year medical student Rheana Techapinyawat said the new synthetic cadavers have already helped her prepare for real procedures like drawing blood samples. She demonstrated this at Wednesday’s announcement.

Techapinyawat put her gloves on, prepared the needle with a collection tube and then injected it into the synthetic arm. She missed the vein on her first attempt, but filled the container with synthetic, clear blood on her second try.

“I had to do this on a patient last night,” Techapinyawat said after drawing the blood sample. “It was easier to do it on an actual patient because of the practice.”

Techapinyawat said the new technology is going to provide the students with valuable opportunities, saying it’s going to give the medical students an edge.

Students aren’t the only group of people who will be affected by the cadaver collaboration. The economy is expected to see a boost, too.

SynDaver Labs could employ as many as 1,000 Phoenix residents in the next several years and could even eventually relocate its headquarters from Tampa to Phoenix, Sakezles said.

“This company wouldn’t be bringing the jobs they’re bringing here not only now, but in the future without this (school),” Stanton said.

Stanton served on the City Council and was chair of the bioscience committee at the time when the land where the school now stands was purchased nearly a decade ago.

“So when I say this has gone beyond our wildest dreams of what would be successful, that’s really true,” Stanton said.

Contact the reporter at jjprice2@asu.edu