7 min read

This Might Look Gross, But It's Going To Save Dogs' Lives

<p><a href="http://syndaver.com/">SynDaver Labs</a><span></span><span></span></p>

A product being heralded as revolutionary to experts may look creepy to most of us - but it's actually meant to save lives.

SynDaver Labs, known for producing synthetic organs and tissues that wouldn't be out of place in a house of horrors, was created to provide an alternative to live patients and cadavers in medical training. The company's hauntingly real muscles, bones and other body parts allow doctors-to-be a way to practice surgery techniques, learn how to implant medical devices or simulate clinical training - without real bodies.

Now, SynDaver's technologies have been formulated for dogs - a synthetic canine just launched to aid veterinary students in their medical training.

Warning: Graphic photos below - but they're not real!

"The SynDaver Canine is an obviously simplified version of a real dog," Dr. Christopher Sakezles, president and chief technology officer of SynDaver Labs, told The Dodo, "but details important to veterinary practice are included in the model for the procedures that are most important."

The SynDaver Canine aims to reduce the need not only for dog cadavers and live patients, but for what's known in the veterinary community as "terminal surgeries." Also called "non-survival surgeries," the term applies any time an animal is euthanized before the anesthesia from surgery wears off.

"Most veterinarians will have experience in our training, the need to anesthetize a dog or cat, and perform a surgical procedure to learn how to do that. But in the end, the animal's not allowed to wake up. We call those 'terminal surgeries,'" Dr. Michael Blackwell, chief veterinary officer with The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), says in a video. "Why are they allowed to die or not wake up? Because they will have served their purpose in training that person. I think we can do better, we need to continue to try to do better than that."

And that's exactly what the SynDaver Canine is aiming to be: better for animals - and it also happens to be cheaper. "From an ethical standpoint, this is important because it eliminates the need to sacrifice an animal," said Sakezles. "The SynDaver Canine is a piece of capital equipment that only needs to be purchased once (it will last forever), and so over time it will become much more cost-effective than live animals or animal cadavers."

Roughly 6 million vertebrate animals - that is cats, dogs, frogs, pigs, mice, rabbits and more - are dissected each year in high school labs alone, according to Animalearn, but that number is harder to calculate at the college and postgraduate level. Animals used in dissections or vivisection - testing while the animal is still alive - come from a variety of sources, from breeders to animal shelters, but these suppliers can be very hard to track.

On the other hand, bills have been passed in many states to prevent shelters from supplying animals to universities and colleges, and many schools have begun looking for animal-friendly alternatives.

"Interested parties can shout 'stop animal testing' all day long," Sakezles said, "but until a real viable alternative is presented, nothing will change. SynDaver Canine is a viable alternative. I am both an animal lover and a scientist. The animal lover in me is happy about this, but the scientist can prove it."

"The model is made from SynDaver tissues – comprised of water, fibers, and salts – which have been shown over the last two decades to closely mimic live tissue," he said. "Finally, while our model does breathe and bleed, it will never have feelings of pain, sadness or abandonment."

Though terminal surgeries have rapidly declined in medical schools, the use of cats and dogs for dissection in veterinary schools still continues. And though many vet schools do offer alternatives to these "terminal" procedures, some still do not.

Watch the first live surgery using the SynDaver Canine here (if you can stomach it!):