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‘Stan the man’ replacing pigs

By Virginia Middleton

After careful evaluation and curriculum review, the Faculty of Medicine has decided to discontinue an optional first-year lab that used Yucatan mini-pigs under anesthetised conditions.

The pigs used in the lab are an exotic swine breed that is valued in the research setting. The university acquired the herd many years ago from a Montreal-based commercial supplier. Since then, the herd has become an international resource, with requests for the breed coming from as far away as France.

Memorial University and the Faculty of Medicine has been in communication for several years with groups such as the American-based Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) who have an interest in eliminating the use of animals in medical schools.

At the same time as the initial contact three years ago, the Faculty of Medicine was beginning a full curriculum evaluation and renewal process. In recent weeks, PCRM contacted the faculty with their growing concerns about the usage of pigs in the medical school. Across Canada, universities have been phasing out the use of animals in medical school education.

“Over the past few years, we have been looking at the best ways to educate our doctors of tomorrow,” said Dr. James Rourke, dean of the Faculty of Medicine. “It is through our curriculum evaluation and the introduction of acceptable simulation technology that we believe we can offer our medical students the best experience available.”

Stan, a Human Patient Simulator from Medical Education Technologies Inc., is a resource that enables Memorial’s medical students to experience realistic situations. The simulator comes with over 100 pre-programmed simulations and unique scenarios can be written and created. Stan is able to receive drugs in which his heart-rate will respond or scenarios that can cause his blood pressure to bottom-out depending on the situation. In the New Year, a new lab course will replace the use of pigs with artificial simulators like Stan.

Also on the horizon is a major expansion for the Faculty of Medicine with the addition of a new building in 2013. The new building will have an advanced clinical learning centre which will include a state-of-the-art simulation suite with a number of simulation labs providing experiences that will mimic real life situations even further.

Until the new building is complete, the current simulation lab located in the Health Sciences Centre will replace the physiology lab that currently uses anesthetised pigs.

“While laboratory conditions for the pigs was extremely humane and supplied a very valuable learning experience for medical students, we appreciate that the use of live animals has been phased out of the curriculum of medical schools across the country for many reasons,” Dean Rourke added.

“With exciting advancements in technology and education happening every day, the Faculty of Medicine continues to renew its teaching methods and improve learning facilities to ensure it continues to graduate the best doctors for the people of Newfoundland and Labrador.”