Lower Columbia College biology instructor Lucas Myers dons latex gloves, then reaches into a pool of water while pressing the button that slowly raises the college’s 110-pound, 5-foot-4-inch Syndaver out of its specially built table.
The Syndaver is a synthetic female cadaver, made of organic tissues and compounds like silicone, Myers said. It’s made with incredible detail, mirroring real flesh and organs in pigment and color, and will even break down if not taken care of properly, he said.
But if cared for the right way, Myers said this Syndaver will last a lifetime, and help pre-allied health students at LCC learn anatomy.
Right now, Myers said anywhere from 75 to 100 dental hygiene, pre-medical, physical therapy and other health students use the Syndaver every quarter.
Students can more easily access the Syndaver than a real cadaver, Myers said, making the college’s current set up with one real cadaver and the Syndaver better than when they had two cadavers.
“(Students in) some quarters don’t have access to the real cadaver all the time,” Myers said, because of the work needed to prepare cadavers.
The Syndaver is one part of LCC’s longterm goals of increasing enrollment and expanding programs, Myers said.
“(The Syndaver) attracts more students for us, because a lot of people don’t realize what LCC has to offer,” Myers said. “It’s a benefit to our students, and their professions as well.”
The Syndaver is a “unique and cool opportunity” for students that the college purchased with a grant about a year and a half ago, Myers said. A full Syndaver costs close to $70,000.
“I imagine that there’s not another junior college in the Northwest that has one,” Myers said. “... We were in a unique situation where we had a grant and could buy her.”
In comparison, LCC pays the University of Washington $3,000 every two years for access to a human cadaver, Myers said.
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The faculty is still working to fully integrate the Syndaver into classes, Myers adds, as they had to spend some time learning the best way to care for, store and use the synthetic cadaver.
The Syndaver rests in distilled water, and is preserved using chemicals similar to what might be found in a pool, Myers said. The water has to be changed twice per month, and the entire Syndaver is cleaned and scrubbed once a month.
All of the realistic organs can come out, Myers said, and the stiches that hold the fake skin and muscle together can be undone to show more of the muscles and organs.
Students wear gloves when they handle the Syndaver, but Myers said that’s more for the body’s protection than the students’ because the fake flesh can be damaged by bacteria. That differs from the real cadaver LCC has, he said, where students have to take more precautions.
He said while some universities have a Syndaver torso, or perhaps just an arm or leg, for teaching, it’s only in the last five years that he’s seen this kind of technology become popular.
The benefit of the Syndaver is not just to students, Myers said, adding that it saves faculty the many hours it would take to dissect and ready a real cadaver for students.
“It takes 40 hours of faculty work to dissect a cadaver down to the point where students can study muscles,” Myers said.
Myers also said that it can be difficult to dissect out nerves and some specific muscles, especially since donated cadavers tend to be older adults with more atrophied, small muscles.
“It’s nice to have this healthy body with robust muscles and nerves,” Myers said. “Nerves are tedious to dissect out on a real cadaver and they’re all very easy to see on the Syndaver.”
However, Myers said it’s still good to have a real cadaver, so nursing students can see real body systems and compare them to textbook images, which are often color-coded and less realistic.
“Medicine is a complex thing and it’s not color coded for you,” Myers said. “A lot of students think if you look at a cadaver, the veins and arteries will be red and blue because that’s what all the images they’ve seen are like.”
As Myers lowers the Syndaver back into the water, air that became trapped in its realistic lungs bubbles to the surface. He’s careful to submerge it fully, he said, to make sure it lasts long into the future and continues to meet the needs of the college.
“We’re continuing to make sure we have up-to-date technology to educate future health students,” Myers said.