NEW PORT RICHEY, Fla. (WFLA) – Students at a New Port Richey High School have moved from dead, preserved frogs for dissection in science class, to synthetic, man-made amphibians.
SynDaver is a developer of synthetic human and animal models used for education and surgical simulation. The company unveiled its synthetic frogs at J.W. Mitchell High School on Wednesday.
The body of the “SynFrog” mimics live tissue, for a realistic dissection experience for students.
Founder and CEO Dr. Christopher Sakezles, an engineer, explained the benefits of these replacement frogs in the classroom.
“The students can learn about anatomy. Comparative anatomy, basic anatomy, introductory anatomy, and get the experience of a live animal without harming a live animal, or a formerly live animal, or being exposed to the hazards that are associated with that, which is biohazards and carcinogenic chemicals that are used to preserve the animal,” Sakezles said.
Dr. Sakezles developed the frog technology with his best friend, David Danielson, a veterinarian.
Dr. Danielson believes these frogs provide a “superior learning experience” and said technology for other animals commonly dissected in classrooms, such as fetal pigs and bull sharks, should be created as well.
“There’s no reason why these technologies can’t be utilized in other animal species so that we don’t have to, not only because of the moral considerations, some of these animals are harder to come by now, and harvesting them for that purpose really isn’t the best use,” he explained.
Dr. Danielson has firsthand experience with students not wanting to dissect a formerly living animal.
“But actually, where my engagement was from my daughter, who came to me refusing to do the fetal pig dissection, and that was, I guess, the emphasis to get me to really push for that technology to be utilized so there wasn’t a need,” Danielson said.
He is actually the family veterinarian for J.W. Mitchell Principal Jessica Schultz. That’s where she first learned of the technology around three years ago.
Schultz said her students got their hands on the frogs this morning and she’s fascinated by their responses.
“So kids are involved, they are in it, they are finger deep in frog guts, but it’s all synthetic, so the smell isn’t there, the stigma isn’t there, they are not opting out. Every kid is engaged and we have students from all academic levels in the classes that we chose and the teachers that we have them with and they are just all in on this,” she said.
We spoke with some of those engaged students working to dissect the synthetic frogs in a science lab at the school.
“Honestly, it’s a little gross, but I think it’s really cool that we’re able to use synthetic instead of other frog,” Bella Baldyga told us as she and her lab partner, Maddie Foster used a scalpel on their frog.
“And real frogs, they don’t actually have to be living and then die for us to do dissections on them, so I prefer this for sure,” Foster nodded.
Dr. Sakezles told us he was very pleased by what he was seeing in the classroom.
“No one being disengaged, which is what you see a lot of time with students that have really big hearts and a lot of empathy and don’t want to touch something that was formerly alive. Those are exactly the kind of students you want to bring in to the biological and the biotech fields, those are the good ones,” he said.
“And we scare them away a lot of the times by forcing them to work with something that was alive. Nobody wants to be responsible for that.”
Schultz told us the school is spending $150 a frog, but the expectation is the company will get the price down to something similar to what they spent on traditional specimens.
She explained the school had internal funds in place to use in their partnership with SynDaver, as officials believe it’s important.
For now, the frogs are only being used at J.W. Mitchell. Dr. Sakezles and Dr. Danielson hope to expand to the entire Pasco County School District.
All of SynDaver’s technology, from synthetic human bodies to frogs, simulate anatomy in great detail, including individual muscles, tendons, arteries, nervous systems and more.
The company has patented its synthetic tissues, which are made of water, fibers, and salt.
To learn more about the company and the technology it provides for medical, veterinary and education use, click here.