Harald Schöffl, Stefan M. Froschauer, Karin M. Dunst, Dietmar Hager, Oskar Kwasny and Georg M. Huemer
Education and training in microsurgical techniques have historically relied on the use of live animal models. Due to an increase in the numbers of microsurgical operations in recent times, the number of trainees in this highly-specialised surgical field has continued to grow. However, strict legislation, greater public awareness, and an increasing sensitivity toward the ethical aspects of scientific research and medical education, emphatically demand a significant reduction in the numbers of animals used in surgical and academic education. Hence, a growing number of articles are reporting on the use of alternatives to live animals in microsurgical education and training. In this review, we report on the current trends in the development and use of microsurgical training models, and on their potential to reduce the number of live animals used for this purpose. We also share our experiences in this field, resulting from our performance of numerous microsurgical courses each year, over more than ten years. The porcine heart, in microvascular surgery training, and the fresh chicken leg, in microneurosurgical and microvascular surgery training, are excellent models for the teaching of basic techniques to the microsurgical novice. Depending on the selected level of expertise of the trainee, these alternative models are capable of reducing the numbers of live animals used by 80–100%. For an even more enhanced, “closer-to-real-life” scenario, these non-animated vessels can be perfused by a pulsatile pump. Thus, it is currently possible to provide excellent and in-depth training in microsurgical techniques, even when the number of live animals used is reduced to a minimum. With these new and innovative techniques, trainees are able to learn and prepare themselves for the clinical situation, with the sacrifice of considerably fewer laboratory animals than would have occurred previously.
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