Idaho State’s cadaver lab may attract doctors and cash

Sean Olson//July 3, 2013

Idaho State’s cadaver lab may attract doctors and cash

Sean Olson//July 3, 2013

Idaho State University Meridian Health Science Center academic programs Dean Bessie M. Katsilometes stands on the site of a planned new expansion that would include two new labs that could help local medical business, one for cadaver study and the other a computer-based physiology lab. Photo by Pete Grady

The planned Treasure Valley Anatomy and Physiology Lab in Meridian will be constructed for students, but business groups are anticipating the financial possibilities the high-tech venture affords.

The 8,000-square-foot addition to Idaho State University’s Health Science Center is one of several phases of the build-out of the school’s Meridian campus, said Bessie M. Katsilometes, Health Science Center dean of academic programs. Construction is scheduled to begin in January, she said.

The building’s cadaver lab, which initially will have room for up to 14 stations for bodies, dwarfs the state’s existing cadaver labs, Katsilometes said. In addition to the necessities that go along with storing cadavers – such as a cold room, morgue and specialized ventilation – there will be a virtual physiology lab featuring computers that show 3-D models of the human body for further study, she said.

“The combination of the hands-on and the virtual are where a lot of health science and college education is going,” Katsilometes said. “There is no facility like this in the state.”

The access to bodies and state-of-the-art physiology modeling could give local medical professionals a break in training costs nearly right away, but bigger opportunities are available once the labs get established, said Dr. Joe Williams, of Boise, who practices with the Idaho Urological Institute.

Williams said he recently took a trip to Long Beach, Calif., for continuing education because there was no opportunity to get the same experience closer to home.

“I was able to learn this new surgical procedure on actual human anatomy,” he said. “There is just no replacement for that as we apply our old skills to new techniques.”

All the while he was in the California, Williams said, he thought about how much revenue he was providing the community at his hotel, restaurants and the airport, revenue he said could easily be spent by doctors visiting Boise.

Earl Sullivan, chairman of the executive board at The Core, an economic development nonprofit that works in the health care industry, said that it is “fundamental to the health care community that we have these highly educated people staying in the valley.” That’s in part because of the plan Sullivan has for any physicians Boise can draw into the lab from other parts of the country.

“I see this as being not only an opportunity to keep those physicians here … but to recruit physicians from outside the area,” Sullivan said, explaining that doctors flying in for training could be convinced that Boise is a better place to practice than wherever they live.

Katsilometes said the first priority of the lab is student education. Idaho does not have its own medical school – it does participate in a program with the University of Washington that offers a first year of medical school at some institutions – but its universities do grant degrees for dentists, physician assistants, speech pathologists, pharmacists and paramedic-science students, all of whom have some need for a cadaver lab.

Still, the lab was created with the idea that it would serve the community with training and potential research collaborations, Katsilometes said.

“We don’t know all the applications or uses initially, but the intent is there, the motivation is there, the desire is there, and that’s what we want to create,” she said.

As more faculty members begin research, she said, the possibilities for partnerships with local businesses to test out medical equipment or do medical technology research will increase, she said.

Sullivan said it could help companies in the medical technology field either grow, if they’re local, or move here because the research opportunities would provide an incentive they couldn’t get in many other areas.

Ken Roberts, director of the Washington State University WWAMI Program, a regional medical education program, in Spokane, said it isn’t a stretch to project that such lab could advance both tourism and local industry growth.

Roberts formerly worked at the University of Minnesota, whose anatomy laboratories had more than 100 studies with outside groups going on per year, he said.

“At full build-out,” he said, “you can have a tremendous amount of activity.”

But Roberts warned that the business won’t flow in overnight, and the lab will have to grow its community relations slowly.

The labs will first need staffing, which requires highly trained managers who are aware of the many regulations that come with storing and using bodies, Katsilometes said. That manager will also eventually be in charge of organizing much of the outside access to the building. Existing professors will teach in the labs, meaning lab management personnel are the main hiring need, she said.

Washington State University is building its own new cadaver lab in Spokane, which will be roughly double the size of ISU’s Meridian version. But Roberts said that the two facilities will be far enough apart that they will not dilute each other’s ability to attract physicians’ visits or companies’ research.

“I think we could both be just as busy as we want,” Roberts said.

The laboratories at ISU have a total price tag of about $3.9 million, half of which has been appropriated by the Legislature. The other half will be paid by ISU and private donations.

In an interview, Katsilometes said she could not reveal who had donated money, but added the school had some enthusiastic supporters – financial and otherwise – from the private medical industry and law enforcement personnel, who can also benefit from the anatomy training.