Educational Technologies for Tomorrow's Workforce

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SynDaver Labs: No Animal Need Be Harmed So Students Can Learn

I recently sat down with Dr. David Danielson who leads SynDaver Labs’ development of synthetic animals for veterinary medicine and biological sciences education and training. Their flagship product is a Canine Surgical Trainer that breathes, bleeds, looks, and feels like a real dog. The Aidex team loves this educational technology for many reasons and is proud to represent it. Read on to find out why.

LC: What’s your history with SynDaver Labs?

DD: Believe it or not, I’ve known SynDaver CEO Christopher Sakezles since first grade. We both went to the University of Florida – I got my degree in Veterinary Medicine and he got a PhD in Materials Science. After graduation, I was fascinated by what he was doing at SynDaver Labs. When Christopher asked me to help develop the synthetic animal business, I jumped at it. How often do you get to be involved in something that can dramatically change the world?

LC: SynDaver’s known for its synthetic humans. Why animals?

DD: The short answer is we saw the opportunity to improve education and training. Dr. Stanley Kim and Dr. Brad Case at the University of Florida’s College of Veterinary Medicine approached SynDaver about developing an alternative to using live and cadaver dogs, which veterinary programs traditionally use to train students. We accepted the challenge. Starting with a skeleton, we worked our way out to “build” the ideal syn-dog’s musculature and vasculature. We’d periodically send the organs and other samples to Stanley and Brad to review to make sure the tissue was lifelike in color and texture and appropriate for suturing.

When we presented the finished prototype to Stanley and Brad, they were blown away. The fact that the syn-dog actually looked, felt, breathed, and bled like a real dog was unreal!

LC: Veterinary colleges have used traditionally terminal surgery (live dogs used to practice surgery on and later put down) and cadaver dogs to train students. Why the shift to canine simulators?

DD: There are many reasons for ending the use of real dogs. First, the question: is it morally right to harm animals so students can learn? I love dogs and it’s always bothered me that dogs had to die so students can learn. A growing number of students, donors, and the general public also have a real problem with it. Replacing live dogs with purpose-built synthetic dogs eliminates the ethical dilemma.

From the practical perspective, it’s increasingly difficult to procure live dogs and cadaver dogs. Shelters are doing a great job adopting out pets; plus they don’t like selling to labs and schools. There’s also a safety issue for students and teachers. Formaldehyde used to preserve cadaver dogs is a carcinogenic. Cadaver labs require sophisticated ventilation systems, which are costly.

LC: What’s the advantage of synthetic versus real dogs?

DD: The learning experience with SynDaver’s Canine Trainers is light years ahead. Here’s why. With the synthetic canine, students get hands-on experience in more than 30 technical and surgical procedures in a controlled environment. If the instructor wants to teach endoscopy or splenectomies, that’s what’s taught. You can’t do that with real dogs. Unlike learning on a real dog where you do a procedure once, students can practice something over and over again, perfecting their skills and becoming better vets or vet techs in the process. It’s a great confidence builder.

LC: But it’s not a real dog.

DD: Yes, but it’s so realistic you fall under its spell. I was operating on one and it started to bleed. My heart rate started going up; I had to find the source of the blood and stop it. My tech asked if she should turn the canine trainer off. I said, “No, I’ve got to save it!” The realism of the dog and its responses make it good for teaching routine procedures like a spay, but also unexpected complications that can cause a dog to bleed to death.

LC: What are other uses for animal simulation technology?

DD: Do you remember back in high school when you had to dissect a fetal pig? My own daughter objected and didn’t do it. And she’s not alone. Lots of students don’t want to kill animals. I appreciate their feelings, but what saddens me is the loss of a learning experience. Anatomy is key to biological science. Our plan is to create fetal pig simulators that students, in good conscience, can learn on and gain knowledge critical to the biosciences.

SynDaver has also been approached by universities to create horse, cat, rabbit, and dolphin simulators for anatomy classes and surgical trainers. We’re talking with the U.S. and Canadian governments about creating a surgical competency test for veterinarians. There are a myriad of possibilities.

LC: What’s impressed you most about the synthetic canine technology?

DD: When a newly hired vet in my practice performed a procedure perfectly and then admitted he’d learned on a SynDaver Canine Trainer. That was very cool.

Aidex is the exclusive representative of  Syndaver Labs’ animal and human educational technology in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, and Nebraska. Contact us at if you’d like more information on how to make this technology part of your curriculum.









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