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Fort Collins Startup Creates Realistic Skin, Body Parts for Surgery Training

David Young • Coloradoan – If one didn’t know better, Dean Hendrickson’s collection of life-like looking slabs of skin in his office would put him in the serial killer suspect category.

But fortunately for future surgeons, Hendrickson, 49, director of the CSU veterinary teaching hospital, is using his powers for good by founding SurgiReal products, a new startup company along with Fausto Bellezzo, a Colorado State University vet school surgeon, which produces realistic synthetic skin pads upon which students can practice cutting and suturing.

The SurgiReal pads and body walls include hairs, blood vessels and different layers. Some models are so realistic that they can even bleed if a student hooks an IV of fake blood up to them. Hendrickson’s goal is to provide students with the most realistic training model possible and eliminate training on live animals.

“We have a vision that meets the stars,” Hendrickson said. “A whole (SurgiReal) body with organs in it.”

Initially, the concept was limited to CSU’s vet school, but Hendrickson’s “ah-ha” moment came at a human simulation conference in San Diego in January where he got a firsthand look at the poor state of other synthetic skin models.

After releasing a video demonstrating SurgiReal products, Hendrickson said they have received inquires from around the globe from vet, nursing and medical schools.

Working with CSU Ventures and Longmont’s Hadley and Marion Stuart Foundation, the company is looking to partner with a company for manufacturing, engineering and marketing the product. They hope to have a partner by the end of May and have a full-body prototype complete with organs by the end of the summer.

Hendrickson said it costs about $10 between time and material to make a pad, which will retail for $60-$70.

Monika Lee, 26, is a CSU vet school student who worked in the lab helping develop the SurgiReal synthetic skins as well as cutting on them herself.

She said cutting on the pads is not identical to real flesh, but that it is a fantastic substitute for training purposes.

“I personally think it is great,” she said. “I think it really gives a lot of confidence to the user to perform the normal surgeries. That has been extremely beneficial in my case to get through the layers and have all the different consistencies.”