Tech Transfer eNews Blog

CSU researchers create silicone pad that mimics live tissue for surgeons in training

By David Schwartz
Published: April 1st, 2015

Surgeons at the College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Science at Colorado State University (CSU) have developed a portable silicone pad that mimics live tissue for doctors in training to practice suturing on.

At many medical and veterinary schools, students are still given orange peels, pig feet or fabric to learn the various techniques of suturing, including symmetry in the depth and width of each stitch, knot-tying and deep-wound closure. The CSU doctors have founded the start-up SurgiReal to provide students with a multilayer silicone suture pad for a more realistic, more helpful approach to training.

“I think we’re making a difference in turning people out who are better at what they do and giving patients better care,” says inventor Dean Hendrickson, DVM, professor of surgery at CSU’s vet school. “That makes it all worthwhile.”

After nearly 15 years of training veterinary students, Hendrickson was frustrated by the lack of suitable materials available for students to practice on. “Surgical labs didn’t have what I wanted to teach with,” he says. “We had been working with orange and banana peels and carpet pads, but I wanted something that handled more like a live animal and less like a peel.”

To address this problem, Hendrickson and fellow CSU animal surgeon Fausto Bellezzo, DVM, experimented with different silicone formulations for six months until they found one that felt like live skin. Their first prototype consisted of five layers of silicone — some embedded with fibers and fabrics — to simulate the various layers of tissue in animal and human bodies. To mimic animal or human hair, they added a flocked texture to the outer layer. The pad can even be connected to an IV of artificial blood to simulate the bleeding that occurs when a live tissue is cut.

“Surgical training is muscle memory,” says Hendrickson. “With the traditional training method, you’re learning and practicing a technique that’s unlike the real thing, which can lead to mistakes and trauma to the skin. Our technique is pretty close to the live tissue.”

Hendrickson and Bellezzo filed two patent applications on the pads with support from CSU Ventures, the school’s tech transfer office.

“We didn’t know enough to go to the TTO, he had to find us,” Hendrickson says of Steve Foster, director of licensing and business development at CSU Ventures. “We had the classic academician mentality — you research, write it up, give it all away at a conference and move on to the next thing.”

Students from an MBA class at CSU drafted a business plan and financials for SurgiReal, and Hendrickson and Bellezzo licensed the technology from CSU and set up shop in a 2,000-square-foot space in Fort Collins. The start-up had sales of $140,000 in 2013; in 2014, that number doubled.

“Every now and again I go back into the mentality of giving it all away,” says Hendrickson. “But then I realize there are 87 programs using our suture pads that wouldn’t have found out about them at an academic meeting. Commercialization is a way to impact more people.”

Source: CSU Ventures

Posted under: Tech Transfer e-News

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