It starts with the head. The simulated head of a Labrador, that is.
It's SimPooch, designed to let canine acupuncturists at Colorado State University's College of Veterinary Medicine appreciate the differences in sensation when the needles enter various tissue layers. Dr. Narda Robinson, director of the CSU Center for Comparative and Integrative Pain Medicine, collaborated with the school's Engineering department to design it. They're now hard at work on virtual reality software that will let students feel the pressure of inserting needles with a pen-like device with or without the use of the head. Dr. Robinson says SimPooch is just part of her larger research into producing evidence, "not talk of invisible energy," to support the study of acupuncture. She also hopes projects like SimPooch will lessen the demand for animals used in teaching labs at universities.
"Once people get to the real dog, they'll be much more practiced, not just novices," she says.
The project has been a win-win for the two departments, according to Dr. Robinson. The veterinarians love going to the Engineering department, where "nothing's dying and we don't have the worry of what to do or whether a client can afford a procedure," she says. The engineers love seeing the acupuncture in action when the veterinarians visit them with animals to film for the project.
The compassionate, animal-focused project also helps the Engineering department recruit a type of student that veterinary schools don't have trouble getting these days: women.