Building Realistic Body Parts for Medical Training at the University of Missouri

    By Kathleen Berger, Executive Producer for Science and Technology

    A Mizzou laboratory looks like something on the set of a horror movie – heads, eyeballs, limbs and fake blood. They all look, feel and bleed like the real thing. But at the University of Missouri School of Medicine, it’s not about making things seem real for blood and gore flicks. Damon Coyle’s anatomically correct creations are made in a Mizzou laboratory where lifelike medical training devices are designed and created.

    “Let’s say surgery wants to practice a particular skill, they’ll come to me saying this is the procedure that we want to emulate or simulate,” explained Coyle, Simulation Innovation Specialist at MU School of Medicine. “What are they looking for in a training tool that’s going to set it apart from others that are currently on the market? Or perhaps there isn’t anything on the market at all and then we sort of had this blank slate of creativity.”

    Coyle is part engineer, part medical expert and part artist. A specific job title for all that he does is tricky.

    “I’m still trying to figure out that elevator pitch,” he said.

    Coyle works for the University of Missouri School of Medicine’s Sheldon Clinical Simulation Center, creating task trainers. These lifelike models help students, doctors and nurses practice essential skills.

    “There were a lot of products that were on the market that did not quite meet exactly what we wanted for the training purposes and also costs continued to rise on those products,” said Dena Higbee, Executive Director of Simulation for MU School of Medicine. “So, it was a matter of trying to figure out how do we create a better product, but also reduce our cost.”

    When doctors and nurses in MU Health Care’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit needed a more realistic trainer to practice placing IV’s in tiny babies, Coyle started with clay. He made a mold and then cast the model in platinum cured silicone.

    “The product that’s casted from those molds will be a soft tissue analog. The gold standard is platinum cured silicone. That’s what they use in the special effects industry in Hollywood. It looks, behaves, feels very convincing as a tissue analog for its translucency and just the way it feels. You can also add pigments to it to make it match a particular patient population. Small babies have thin, translucent skin. So maybe I’ll back up the pigment on that,” Coyle said.

    The task trainers are used by both new and experienced nurses.

    “Often times you get a lot of practice throughout nursing school, sticking on adults which have a lot bigger veins,” explained Christine McQuay, RN, Service Line Supervisor at MU Health Care. “And then when you come to the nursery, the veins are very small. So, it gives them the ability to practice the skills, feel confident with what they’re doing.”

    Another one of Coyle’s creations is a trainer for eye trauma. And Coyle made a bust that helps students identify signs of malnourishment.

    “This reality gap is between the see one and the do one. The ultimate goal for medical simulation is to reduce the reality gap between the see one and the do one. There’s a lot of room for negative patient outcomes. So, if we can provide something that looks and feels and behaves real, we can potentially reduce negative patient outcomes.”

    The next goal is to help improve patient care across the country by sharing these products with other schools and health systems, reducing the gap between training and real life.