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Matrix magic makes veterinary surgery less intimidating

THE ''patient'' has no head and no limbs, but her belly is creepily realistic to the touch, thanks to the special effects company that also created the gooey pod scene in The Matrix.

Sophie Moffat, a final-year veterinary student at the University of Sydney, carefully makes an incision in the pink, three-layered ''skin'' of this life-like model of a dog's abdomen.

She begins to search inside for the uterus and ovaries. ''They're not easy to find,'' she explains, probing around near the bladder.

Max Zuber, a lecturer in small-animal surgery overseeing this simulated spaying operation, said the first year in practice for new vets could be intimidating. ''A major expectation from day one on the job is that they will be able to desex cats and dogs,'' he said.

To help students prepare for the common surgical procedure he and his colleagues collaborated with a Sydney company, Studio Kite, which specialises in animatronic creatures for film and television, to produce the silicone-based animal model - a ''world-first'' - and ensure it was as realistic as possible.

A case in point is the ligament attached to the ovary that Ms Moffat has found and holds firmly between her fingers.


It has the same elasticity, strength and slipperiness as the real thing. ''Now I want you to try and snap the ligament,'' Professor Zuber instructs her.

Ms Moffat said that being able to practise this kind of difficult movement, as well as techniques such as clamping blood vessels, was invaluable experience.

Students also train on cadavers and live animals before graduating, but it was animal welfare concerns about both practices that drove the development of the model as an additional teaching aid. ''It means students are not performing their first live-animal surgery as novices,'' Professor Zuber said.

Steven Rosewell, of Studio Kite, said the incisions in the belly skin could be easily glued up, and the reproductive tract was replaceable.