Achieving immortality might be the ultimate aspiration of your average inventor, but in Chris Sakezles's case, he just wanted to build a better dead body. While getting his PhD in polymer science and engineering in the '90s, he developed a device for the human trachea, but his options for testing it were grim: get a cadaver, which is expensive, or use body parts made of rubber. A decade later, Sakezles created SynDaver, a Tampa-based company that makes synthetic bodies--complete with blood-pumping arteries, a full set of organs, and teeth--for medical schools, the military, and TV studios. And they never stop ticking.
Water, Water Everywhere
Salt, minerals, and synthetic and plant-based fibers are ingredients in a SynDaver body, but water is the dominant one, mimicking the composition of the human body. The water and salt combination makes the synthetic cadavers conductive so users can practice electrophysiology--the study of electrical effects on the body--or test electrical devices on them.
Price Per Part
"When someone buys a synthetic human, the follow-up work is similar to buying a car," Sakezles says. "We have people trade in on new models and replace the parts that are designed to get chewed up when you're doing surgery or some other kind of procedure." Sakezles says body parts can range widely in price, depending on what the customer needs--a straight section of vascular tubing might cost $20, while a head could set you back $5,000.
A Human Tissue Library
The company has created about 100 different tissues, ranging from bone to teeth to toenails. Sakezles estimates it took him about five years to develop his library of tissues, and he's still adding more. "We don't have a Jell-O mold that you can squirt things into and make a synthetic human," Sakezles says. "It's made up of hundreds of parts, all of which are sutured together and built like an onion skin to mimic that individual tissue, muscle, organ, or bone."
Limbs Came Later
The first iteration of SynDaver humans didn't have a head or limbs beyond the elbows and knees--Sakezles was still developing those parts, and the initial models were intended for vascular practice, which didn't require extremities.
A Premium for Longevity
SynDaver's human bodies go for about $70,000, which is a steep increase from the $5,000 to $10,000 it typically costs to buy a human cadaver, Sakezles says. But SynDaver products are reusable and not frozen or biohazardous like human cadavers--if a human has been embalmed, the body will contain chemicals like formaldehyde. "The upfront cost for a SynDaver is much greater than for a cadaver, but you're talking about a piece of equipment that you have forever versus something you have to throw away every time," he says.
Practice Your IV Skills
SynDaver's bodies are custom-made to fit the needs of the client. For example, the company began making canine models two years ago when the University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine asked for something to replace real dog cadavers. SynDaver's dogs are used primarily for abdominal surgeries--such as splenectomies--neutering, and spaying, but customers can use limbs to practice IV insertion.
The Animal Afterlife
Dogs aren't the only animal that SynDaver has replicated. The company unveiled a feline SynDaver in January, has two horse models in development, and is creating a frog that can be used for dissection in biology classes. The hope, says Sakezles, is that simulated cadavers won't scare young minds away from science. "Especially the students who have the greatest amount of empathy, who are exactly the ones you want to attract to the medical field," he says.
Designing a Leg
In the early days, Sakezles hand-sculpted parts with clay and wax. Today, he employs computer-aided design, which makes it easier and faster for the company to edit an organ or limb.
Better Than Death
"As soon as death occurs, tissue properties start to change, and once a body is frozen or embalmed, it is good geometry-wise, but tissue-wise it is not reusable," Sakezles says. "With a SynDaver, you can use it over and over again and repair it if you damage something."
(Almost) Human Brain
The main difference between human and synthetic cadavers is that after death, human cadavers no longer respond as a living person would. SynDaver has given surgeons, doctors, nurses, and researchers the ability to practice on a model that performs like a living human--the closest they can get to the real thing without breaking any laws. For example, a user can practice surgery on a SynDaver brain or place a coronary stent in a SynDaver chest without risking a life. The company's products can have blood flow, replicating what medical personnel would encounter if they were treating someone who was still alive.
Later this year, SynDaver plans to release an augmented-reality model to go along with its physical products, so users can incorporate computer imagery into their hands-on practices.