Reusable Surgical Phantoms with Self-healing Nanocomposite Hydrogel
Current medical education facilities use simulation training to educate medical residents and other healthcare staff. These centers typically rely on single-use soft training devices that use ballistics gel to simulate human tissue but that must be discarded after a single training session. This not only is an environmental burden but amounts to a tremendous cost for training programs. As such, I have adapted a self-healing nanocomposite hydrogel to make surgical phantoms and other medical education mannequins reusable. This hydrogel has similar storage and loss moduli to human muscle tissue and is acoustically similar to human tissue. Failure testing of the hydrogel material simulating trainer use, i.e., cycles of needle punctures and overnight healing, demonstrated that the hydrogel trainer can be used up to 10 times with successful healing. The hydrogel is initially intended to replace single-session clinical trainers for ultrasound-guided central line placement, so I created a perfusable, more anatomically accurate trainer where the device can be pressurized with liquid to simulate human blood vessels and bleeding. In a blinded study of training staff within the Simulation Training Center at the University of California, San Diego, qualitative ultrasound evaluation indicated that clinical experts could not, upon initial evaluation, correctly determine which training devices had previously been punctured and healed. These data suggest that a self-healing nanocomposite hydrogel may be an alternative to current single-use soft training materials.