iStan helps students learn about administering drugs

‘Patient simulator’ used in universities as test bed to see how medicines affect body

Meet iStan a "patient simulator" who can start the day as a 20-year-old fit male but then become an 80-year-old smoker with a bad heart after lunch.

The latest medical simulator technology was on show in Bradford on Tuesday at the ongoing British Science Association’s annual Festival of Science.

iStan or Stan for short is based in the Simulation Lecture Theatre at the University of Bradford and helps students learn about the effects of improperly administered drugs, how medications can stop as well as start a heart.

Stan looks like a adult male and is flexible with moveable joints. His eyes blink, he breathes in and out and can even cry, sweat and has a pulse, explained Keren Bielby-Clarke, a lecturer in life sciences simulation at Bradford.


Dangerous time

He is used by pharmacology and chemistry students as a test bed to see how medicines affect the body, she said. This can be a dangerous time for Stan who "dies" if the wrong drugs are given, Dr Bielby-Clarke said. But he can be brought back at the flick of a switch.

“He would die four or five times a week depending on what we are teaching.”

She can “alter his physiology” to represent a wide range of medical conditions simply by changing the software that controls him.

He can also be any age and even change sex as required, she said. “He is very, very flexible.”

He can be put into anaphylactic shock or act like someone with a stab wound or punctured lung. Students might then be asked to decide what treatment options to apply.

He cost about €58,000 with all his software including physiological data for 50 or 60 different drug types and Stan can be dosed with these.

His heartbeat, breathing and blood pressure changes in response to the drug being given, and she has found that students learn better by handling Stan like a patient than simply learning from a book.

Dr Bielby-Clarke also demonstrated an “Anatomage”, a device that can eliminate the need to use cadavers to teach physiology of the body. Students can study the placement of organs, skeletal structure, blood vessels and nerves.

Dick Ahlstrom

Dick Ahlstrom

Dick Ahlstrom, a contributor to The Irish Times, is the newspaper's former Science Editor.