A look inside a lab that builds synthetic humans and animals

Doctors and medical professionals have used cadavers for centuries to better understand human anatomy. But, the use of cadavers have limitations, as they are difficult and costly to store and maintain. Now, scientists at a biotech company in Tampa, Florida, have created an alternative.


Doctors and medical professionals have used cadavers for centuries to better understand human anatomy.

But the use of cadavers has limitations as they're difficult and costly to store and maintain.

Now scientists at a biotech company in Tampa, Florida, have created an alternative.

Here's the story.

At first glance, these humans splayed out on medical tables are a little unnerving, but they're actually just convincing synthetic models developed by SynDaver Labs.

SynDaver got its start as a basic sciences company, and what underlies all of our technology is live tissue testing.

We perform some kind of physical test on a live tissue, and then we develop an analog to mimic those properties.

Christopher Sakezles used his training in polymer science to create these anatomical models.

We make everything out of water, salts, and fibers so that we can mimic both mechanical properties and physical properties like thermal conductivity.

Dielectric properties so we can get proper heating in an MRI coil.

At the SynDaver Lab, technicians work on creating anything from body parts to detailed anatomical humans that bleed.

They can even exhibit shock for a real live training experience.

The design and construction of these SynDavers takes in every scientific angle in anatomy.

Even the simplest part in our products that you might look at and think that they're simple, something... radial artery.

You start as with a real radial artery, and you can run that through a battery of tests that might include the resistance to puncture through the vessel.

Speaking strictly mechanically, you use something called finite element analysis to model that part and the surrounding parts to create a model that's going to perform like the real thing.

At the end of the day, that's what we want to do.

The company has been making synthetic human cadavers for about a decade but turned to creating dogs after receiving a request from Christopher's alma mater.

The University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine is our partner.

They approached us about this time last year wanting to create something synthetic that they could use to replace both live animals and animal cadavers on the canine side.

For ethical reasons, the university stopped using live animals during surgical training, but using real cadavers proved challenging.

The properties of the tissues change immediately after death much more radically once you freeze them, and certainly after you preserve them.

When you use a bad model like that, you get something called negative training transfer.

That simply means that you're training your students how to do things wrong.

You're teaching them incorrectly.

So, what we've done is created a synthetic for their application that mimics live tissue better than the dog cadavers do.

The SynDaver canine's strikingly lifelike components help ensure a productive training experience for students.

I wanted something that was so realistic that it would give a same experience that if you were to do surgery on a live animal.

Dr. David Danielson, the veterinary technical VP at SynDaver, is passionate about the details.

Texturally, we wanted the skin to behave properly so can cut it.

You know, it gives you the same feel and depth of cut as it would if it was real.

How to suture properly.

So it had the same drag and pull so that you could learn how to properly close.

Then, of course, the aspect of some of the pathologies internally.

Removing part of the spleen or doing the biopsy of the liver or any of that.

We really wanted those students to learn to do it exactly as if it was on a live animal.

After we've closed this layer in a simple continuous pattern, we'll come and back and close the most superficial aspect.

Dr. Stanley Kim teaches small animal surgery at the University of Florida and gave feedback during the tweaking process.

SynDaver originally came up with an excellent prototype, but there were some very important anatomic details within the abdomen that we wanted to make sure were in there so we could really simulate a very realistic experience.

The feedback that we provided to them, I think, was critical for them to develop this model that I think is a very suitable representation of a live animal.

Surgical professor and veterinarian Dr. Brad Case shares the enthusiasm felt by his colleague.

The great thing about this is we now have a model that we've completely eliminated the ethical concerns, and we've got a very accurate, at least the most accurate model that I've ever seen in regards to tissue texture, vascular anatomy, and so now these students get a real-life experience.

And the SynDaver canine's most gruesome element appears to be one of its most crucial for accurate surgical practice.


I think one of the biggest benefits, honestly, is the bleeding and seeing the bleeding.

Because with the cadavers you don't get a lot of that.

And in real life, with the animals that we're going to be working on in the future, they're going to bleed, and it makes things a little bit harder and more challenging.

We had a number of them discover that their ligatures weren't tight enough and then they had a bleeding vessel, and they had to deal with that.

They can hear the heart rate is the background.

They can palpate the pulsing vessel.

They can apply digital pressure to cause temporary hemostasis, and now you got to troubleshoot how to deal with it.

So, I think that is an aspect of surgery which is stressful and challenging, and now they've gotten a dose of that in a safe, positive environment.

Unlike operations in terminal labs where subjects are eventually euthanized, the SynDaver canine can be used repeatedly without harm.

There are still quite a few vet programs in the world, mostly outside the U.S.

now, that still use live canines.

With this product, we'll be able to put a stop to that altogether.

And there are health benefits for humans too.

Unlike any kind of cadaver product, you don't have to worry about biohazards.

You don't have to worry about the carcinogens, you know, formaldehyde and the COPD and effects that instructors see after long exposure to that.

Plus you get that live tissue experience.

The SynDaver canine's future seems bright, and its evolution is already being discussed.

Now we're talking about doing really challenging things like masses and complicated surgeries that even specialists will have to kind of learn, or if you would like to experience, we can do them on this platform.

So it's just kind of building on this and making it more challenging, creating that perfect scenario.

All the potential in the world is here, and it'll be an ongoing relationship.

And as new clinical scenarios come up that we want to re-create, we have the potential to alter the model a bit to make it suit that application.

So I think that's the great thing.

We can go wherever we want.