ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Mark Danley carefully pulls on a pair of latex gloves, then uncovers the lifeless adult female form on the table. He folds back the two flaps of her severed chest, exposing the heart, lungs and other internal organs.
For just a moment, a slightly sharp chemical odor drifts from the body. Four young women look on, saying little, seemingly transfixed by the view inside the human body.
“We actually have to open up her chest like she’s having cardiac surgery,” Danley tells them.
But the woman on the table, Cindy, is not having surgery. In fact, she has never even been alive. She is an artificial cadaver, all 100 pounds of her – muscles and organs, tendons and teeth, blood vessels and bones. She was manufactured solely to take the place of the real thing in a human anatomy lab at the Central New Mexico Community College, where Danley is a biology instructor.
Cindy, on the other hand, is a Syndaver – hence her name. In fact, she is one of two CNM Syndavers. Their
bodies – remarkably accurate replicas of the human form – consist mostly of water. Now about four months old, Cindy cost $50,000. She will soon be replaced by an even more realistic Syndaver at no extra cost. The newer model will have more detailed muscularity and perhaps knees that can be disassembled. It is expected to last at least five years – perhaps much longer.
For two decades, CNM anatomy and patho-physiology students have learned about the body from human cadavers provided by the University of New Mexico School of Medicine. Cadavers were expensive to transport, maintain and work with – about $20,000. And they lasted a mere two terms.
But now the Syndavers have arrived.
Syndavers show all the organs and how they work in relation to muscles, nerves and veins. “They are real to the touch and give students the sense they are working with the real thing,” Danley says.
But they still have to be handled with the utmost of care. Because they contain organic material, they can be breeding grounds for fungi and bacteria.
The four women looking on as Danley pokes and probes at Cindy’s torso, mouth and limbs are all anatomy students. They would soon be the ones doing the poking and probing.
One person, however, won’t be present: the prosector. Prosectors, in the past, were UNM Medical School
students who needed to be on hand to do the actual dissections. Syndavers won’t be dissected. But students can move organs around, and shift and lift muscles for a peek at what lies underneath.
Syndavers came to CNM because the L Building was scheduled for reconstruction. The old structure was gutted and there was simply nowhere to store or even work on cadavers. The college was worried about such problems as ventilation. Rich Calabro, the former dean of the School of Math, Science & Engineering, said that, during the reconstruction, the cadavers would have to go.
Then, about 18 months ago, Danley attended a conference where Syndavers were on exhibit, and he brought back photos and videos. The manufacturer, SynDaver Labs, sent a test model to CNM last year for the faculty to evaluate.
The new dean of MS&E, John Cornish, was impressed and he asked college administrators to buy one. By the end of the 2013 fall term, CNM had purchased two Syndavers – Cindy for the Main Campus and Circe for the Westside.
Instructors and students are pleased with the decision. At least two of the students say they would be reluctant to dissect an actual cadaver – “Ecchh!” – and that working on Cindy would be much more palatable.
Danley, too, says he really likes working with the Syndaver. “It’s a little more user-friendly,” he says.