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‘SynDaver’ enfleshes Dominican’s anatomy studies

On a recent morning, the day before Dominican High School students were to take a practicum in an anatomy and physiology class, their teacher Anjel Guitroz rolled out a synthetic human body, complete with all the organs and veins.

“Girls, if you want some added practice, I have the ‘SynDaver’ out,” Guitroz told her juniors and seniors taking the anatomy elective.

Groups of students pulled out a liver, long and small intestines, a stomach and other organs.

“This is a different way to help you study,” Guitroz told the students.

“What’s this?” Guitroz asked as she grabbed a body part.

“The duodenum,” answered a student.

“Y’all are going to kill it tomorrow,” Guitroz replied.

“This is so weird,” senior Emily Meyer said as she and her classmates continued exploring the human body.

Since the opening of Dominican’s 16,000-square-foot science and technology complex – designed to integrate knowledge of math, science, technology, religion, arts and engineering – students literally have a leg up when exploring the ins and outs of anatomy and physiology through use of the SynDaver.

Instead of just dissecting pigs and frogs to learn how a body’s systems and organs work, the SynDaver replicates the human body with its organs, veins and arteries all in their proper place.

Guitroz said the model’s capabilities go beyond identifying body parts.

“I can control fluids in the veins and show the flow of blood through the cardiovascular system,” she said.

When the girls began exploring the SynDaver, they noticed various differences from the dissection of a pig.

“It’s bigger,” Emily said as compared to a baby pig they use in class. She said the SynDaver was similar to a CAT scan in that actual organs can be better distinguished. The SynDaver has the proper colors of each organ and vein.

“You can also relate to it better, because we are not a pig,” junior Kenechi Okeke said.

Junior Sierra Sylve said she was glad the school has a female SynDaver.

Generous donation

An anonymous donor whose family had a legacy with Dominican made a $65,000 investment in the female SynDaver for Dominican, said Sandra Cordray, the school’s executive director of strategic communications. SynDavers are commonly found on university, college and nursing and medical school campuses, not in high schools. In fact, Dominican is the only high school in the United States to have invested in the SynDaver, Cordray said.

Guitroz, who has a biology degree and was a molecular biologist for the USDA, said she tries to introduce students to something new every year to keep the science curriculum fresh. This is her third year at Dominican.

The cadaver certainly piqued the students’ interest in anatomy. She said it engages students and enhances their learning.

“This is a lot easier than a diagram on paper,” Emily said.

In addition to classroom instruction, Guitroz said she has taken her students on field trips to the coroner’s office and the lab of Michael Dancisak, Ph.D., director of the Center for Anatomical and Movement Sciences at Tulane University, where they viewed cadavers that had been dissected to reveal the layers of the skin and upper and lower musculoskeletal structures, touched the muscles and viewed how the arm muscles moved as a result of the fingers’ movement. They also viewed a full neuro-dissection, which included the brain, spinal cord and peripheral nerves that lead to various parts of the body. They had the opportunity to hold a human heart. 

“I like to bring my students to places where they can use their knowledge,” she said.

Christine Bordelon can be reached at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

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