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Synthetic Cadavers Bring Anatomy, Physiology Education to Virtual-life

Sept. 25, 2014-- For close to 20 years, CNM anatomy and physiology students learned about the human body from cadavers. Not anymore. Very life-like, synthetic cadavers have taken their place in CNM labs, creating a new and fascinating high-tech learning environment.
Synthetic Cadavers Bring Anatomy, Physiology Education to Virtual-life

Mark Danley, biology instructor, works with one of the new Syndavers.

The synthetic cadavers, called Syndavers, are head-to-toe replicas of the human body, from skin with fat tissue to elastic tendons and ligaments to squishy organs to rigid bones. Made by the Tampa, Fla. company Syndaver Labs, they consist of 85 percent water (similar to a human body) and a variety of fibers, along with different salts and organic compounds.

“These Syndavers are very life-like,” Danley said. “They show all the organs and how they work in relationship with muscles, nerves and veins. They are real to the touch and give students the sense they are working with the real thing.”

The actual human cadavers were expensive, costing on average about $20,000 per year and lasting only two terms. The Syndavers are expensive, too, running in the $50,000 range. However, if cared for appropriately, they can last five years or more. Like the human cadavers, they need to be kept in special bags, and students have to be cautious because fungi and bacteria can grow on them because they include organic material.

The Syndavers will also eliminate the need for UNM Medical School students (Prosectors) to be on hand to dissect them, like they did with the human cadavers. Students can’t remove organs from the Syndavers, but they can move them around and get a sense for how they would feel in a real body.

Danley noted that the former dean of the School of Math, Science & Engineering, Rich Calabro, was interested in eliminating cadavers from the classroom with the reconstruction of the L Building, which houses science classes and labs. When Danley returned in May 2013 from a conference where he saw Syndavers on exhibit, he brought photos and videos to show the department. Because they are so realistic, medical and nursing schools across the country are starting to use them in lieu of cadavers. The company then sent a “test model” in September of last year for CNM faculty to review and evaluate. The new dean of MSE, John Cornish, was impressed, and he approached the CNM administration with a request to purchase one

By the end of 2013 Fall Term, administration approved the purchase of two synthetic cadavers – one each for Main and Westside campuses.

The Syndaver was born in 2004 in the garage of Dr. Christopher Sakezles, president and chief technology officer for SynDaver Labs. Today the company offers multiple products ranging from simple veins and arteries to the life-size models that CNM purchased.

An iPad loaded with an anatomy App.
An iPad loaded with a physiology App.
As part of the effort to integrate the Syndavers, the CNM Biology Department has purchased 48 iPads that are loaded with special Apps showing images of human anatomy in great detail and providing access to microscope slides that can be viewed at different magnifications while maintaining very high resolution. The anatomy images can be enlarged and moved around on the iPad, giving students the opportunity to see the anatomy in varying positions. The iPads are configured and managed with the help of MacBook Pros and are stored in iPad carts. Half of the iPads are in the Anatomy and Physiology Lab at Main Campus; the others are at the Westside Campus.

As part of her assignment as the Presidential Fellow for Instructional Technology this academic year, Kat Flies manages the devices and is teaching lab instructors how to use the iPads in conjunction with their curriculum and the Syndavers.

“The Syndavers and iPads represent a new way of teaching anatomy and physiology at CNM,” Danley said. “They are a step into the future of learning.”

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