Doctors who need to operate on injured patients in emergencies have long practiced their lifesaving procedures on live animals, but now a replica of a human, called TraumaMan, is helping to modernize their training.
Thanks to a partnership between the manufacturer of TraumaMan - Seattle-based Simulab - and the animal rights organization People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), more than 100 donated TraumaMan simulators are arriving at medical schools in Asia, Africa, Europe and the Americas.
All the schools offer the American College of Surgeons-approved course, Advanced Trauma Life Support (ATLS). The TraumaMan simulator was developed specifically for that course 13 years ago and is now used to train more than 35,000 medical professionals a year, according to Simulab.
The American College of Surgeons has endorsed TraumaMan "as a complete replacement for animal use in ATLS training," according to a 2010 report in the journal Anaesthesia.
"Cutting into animals that are the wrong species is a sub-optimal way to train doctors to perform surgeries on people," said Justin Goodman, PETA's director of laboratory investigations.
Also, Goodman told Reuters Health, "When you use animals in training, you can only perform a procedure once. If you do it wrong, that was your only shot."
With TraumaMan, surgeons can practice a procedure multiple times.
The lifelike torsos have simulated skin, fat, and muscle, according to Simulab. Under those "tissues" are simulated cartilage, ligaments, and organs. Inflatable lungs simulate breathing, and "when a student makes an incision . . . it bleeds."
Egyptian medical schools were the first to receive the donated simulators. PETA then expanded the program to 15 more countries, including China, Pakistan, Bolivia, Iran, Jordan, Panama, Indonesia, and the Philippines. Donations to date are valued at US$2.65 million (2.37 million euros).
Typically, TraumaMan costs $25,000. Simulab is providing them to PETA at a discount and will provide discounted replacement sets to participating institutions.
The University of Athens, Greece recently received a TraumaMan. Until this year, Dr. Panetelis Vassiliu had taught the ATLS course with anesthetized pigs that were euthanized following the practice sessions.
"For many years, the finances in our country (prevented us from) buying the simulators," Vassiliu told Reuters Health.
He said the university will save money by avoiding the veterinary fees, food and housing required for animal care prior to surgical training.
In Mexico, ATLS courses have used simulators since January. Training in the 150 courses taught nationwide each year had required an average of 550 dogs and pigs.
"Not every student was comfortable with that kind of practice," said Dr. Moises Zielanowski of the American College of Surgeons-Mexico Federal District Chapter. "The TraumaMan is almost (like) a patient, so each student can practice with it as a case with a live patient."
PETA plans to expand the program to all countries where the ATLS course is offered.
"The idea that we can provide instruments to help train surgeons is pretty exciting to us," said Simulab's Dave Garland, vice president of sales. "We can get more people using our product that doesn't use live animals. It is a benefit to humanity."