SurgiReal makes it real for prospective student surgeons with bleeding suture practice pads

By: Steve Monday August 4, 2014 0 comments Tags: CSU Ventures, Dean Hendrickson, Fausto Bellezzo, Fort Collins, Mitch Willett, RealFlow, RealLayer, SurgiReal


By Steve Porter


FORT COLLINS - Ever wonder how veterinary surgeons practice their cutting and stitching techniques?

Up till recently, veterinary students used a variety of materials to practice their slicing and needlework, including fruit skins, pieces of carpet and dead pig's feet.

But those materials left much to be desired and did not give students practice in dealing with blood oozing from a live animal.

And while live animals for stitch practice were available, that's a lot for some first-time flesh cutters to handle.

For Dean Hendrickson, equine surgeon and former director of Colorado State University's Veterinary Teaching Hospital in Fort Collins, there was something missing in the education of his students.

About four years ago, Hendrickson said he and Fausto Bellezzo, also an equine surgeon and currently an equine emergency and critical care fellow at CSU, were brainstorming how they could make the surgical training experience more realistic and thus more educational.

"It came from an experience of teaching surgical techniques, and that maybe (what we were doing) wasn't the best way," Hendrickson said.

"The other part was there was nothing to replicate bleeding."

"Blood was one of the first things we talked about," says Bellezzo. "Something I proposed was to pick one thing and go from there. And Dr. Hendrickson said if we could pick only one thing, it was to make (a suture pad) bleed."

Suture pads that simulate skin and tissue are available on the market for student practice, but there was nothing out there as realistic and that actually bled.

Bellezzo said coming up with a suture pad design that could bleed reminded him of the special blood effects he'd seen in movies, and he began making phone calls to special effects experts to see how they did it.

Ultimately - after many, many iterations -- Hendrickson and Bellezzo devised a suture pad design that could bleed, courtesy of an innovative vascular grid design that simulates tissue and vessel response along with artificial  blood in a bag that can be height-adjusted to change the blood pressure.

"It was frustrating at times," says Hendrickson, "because we all wanted something that was just a little more perfect."

That eventual breakthrough led to the creation of SurgiReal, a CSU spinoff company enabled through CSU Ventures, the technology commercialization arm of Colorado State University.

SurgiReal's patented technologies - RealLayer and RealFlow - provided the basis for the formation of the company in 2012 and its first sales in 2013.

"We weren't thinking 'company' when this started, we were thinking (student) training," says Hendrickson. "CSU Ventures got us started down that path."

The inexpensive suture pads can be used at least 10 times and wherever the student surgeon wants to practice.

"You can put it in your backpack and take it anywhere," says Bellezzo.

Mitch Willett is the third partner in SurgiReal, in charge of business operations and marketing the company's products.

Willett said the company is marketing its veterinary products --which also include a horse head and dog leg that train students how to draw blood and place catheters - to veterinary students and veterinary schools. The company also markets its suture training products to medical schools, nursing schools and physician assistant programs.

"We've just started targeting medical schools and we're seeing growth in this segment," Willett says.

SurgiReal has an exciting new product pipeline. One of the products the company is currently working to develop is a practice abdominal cavity. As the design is refined, SurgiReal is also evaluating what it would take to bring the product into production. All of the manufacturing is done at SurgiReal's facility in north Fort Collins.

"We couldn't get the quality from a contractor," says Hendrickson. "It's all done in-house here because we wanted to have the right look and feel."

Willett said all of SurgiReal's products are sold online on its website,

About the Author: Steve