Matrix and veterinary science know-how creates a cutting-edge model

10 April 2012

The lifelike model of a dog's abdomen helps veterinary students hone their surgical skills.
The lifelike model of a dog's abdomen helps veterinary students hone their surgical skills.

A company that worked on the film The Matrix has developed groundbreaking technology which will help University of Sydney veterinary students improve their surgical desexing skills.

"The first year of a veterinarian's career can be both exciting and intimidating. A major expectation from day one on the job is that they will be able to desex cats and dogs," said Associate Professor Max Zuber from the Faculty of Veterinary Science.

This skill, of soft-tissue surgery on small animals, has previously been perfected solely by experience at the university hospital and at veterinary clinics.

"While students will continue to operate in those settings they now have the added opportunity to practise these skills on highly lifelike models or simulators," Professor Zuber said.

Working with Studio Kite the faculty developed a prototype of a silicon-based, lifelike model of a dog's abdomen that reflects the anatomical and surgical challenges of desexing, before final approval of a working model.

"The model we've created is a world-first in a couple of ways. First is that its look, its feel and its ability to be operated on is 'cutting edge'!

"Another major innovation is that the reproductive track is replaceable. To give students a true experience of desexing they need (in females) to remove the reproductive tract which is destroyed in the process. They can do that with this model because the reproductive tract is a replaceable part."

The model even contains fake organs and blood.
The model even contains fake organs and blood.

Studio Kite is a special effects and model making company specialising in animatronic creatures. Their credits include making possible the famous 'goo' scene in The Matrix film, where humans are revealed as living in pods.

The model consists of moulded plastic with indentations representing the vertebral column, kidneys and large intestine.

The abdomen includes a female reproductive tract, intestinal tract and bladder.

Its walls consist of layers of skin, subcutaneous tissue and muscle layers whose varying layers of silicone are made to look and feel as true to life as possible. If the tissues are torn then silicone tubing filled with coloured fluid 'bleed'.

"Yet another advantage of using these surgical simulators is that their lifelikeness means they are perfect for teaching basic skills used in a wide range of surgical procedures, apart from routine desexing operations," Professor Zuber said.

"It also means students are not performing their first live-animal surgery as novices, but with a degree of competence and confidence already established: a benefit for them, their supervisor and their animal patient."

Other Australian universities have shown an interest in the model. Studio Kite is now hoping to manufacture the product commercially and adapt it for use by medical students.

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