Not rats, but mats

3 years ago

Bart van der Zwan, Professor of Vascular Neurosurgery at UMC Utrecht, teaches microsurgery using mats, pierced rice noodles and flower petals.

"I have been active in the lab since I was thirty, including in the field of animal experiments. Usually I worked with deceased animals: rats, rabbits, pigs, and in the past also with dogs and monkeys. I also teach microsurgery, an important part of neurosurgery, ear, nose and throat surgery and plastic surgery."


"You operate under a microscope and handle the suture needle with tweezers, which is completely different than with the naked eye. It is an important part of neurosurgeon training. One should always keep practicing. A few years ago, I therefore started developing a microsurgery course in collaboration with the Brain Technology Institute, which sits around the corner. I also wanted to get rid of using lab animals. I had seen in the literature that there were other options."

Cooked rice noodles

"If you cut plastic mats, you can stitch them together as a training. The same is possible with a surgical glove. If you fill it with water afterwards, you will immediately know whether you can stich waterproof. We also use petals. They represent very thin and fragile tissue, the meninges for example. For vascular surgery, we use boiled rice noodles. The participants first make a hollow opening. That is a useful exercise in itself, because if you squeeze a little too hard with your tweezers, the noodles will break. Then they cut the "blood vessel" and stitch the halves back together. We run water through it to know whether the bond is closed. We have also built a mechanical vascular model that allows you to put pressure on the water."

Drop by the florist

"It not only saves laboratory animals, it is also cheaper and much easier to organise. When you use animals, you have to plan very well and register all kinds of stuff, you have to buy and house them, you need anesthesia, and so on. A 75 cent rose has enough leaves for a whole group! And with one package of rice noodles we can practice for three weeks. When the course is drawing near, we say to each other: who will drop by the florist and the supermarket? We really like these methods. In the near future, I would like to offer the course nationwide."