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Patient Simulators Can Be Used To Test New Drugs, Procedures

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RALEIGH, N.C. — Patient simulators are computer-controlled mannequins. Duke researchers used them for several years in medical training. Now, they are the first to use them to evaluate clinical trials in the quest to find safer drugs and life-saving procedures.

Dr. Jeffrey Taekman helps to rain resident anesthesiologists at Duke. He can make patient simulator at Duke respond in a number of ways, such as testing new drugs and procedures.

"We're actually the first place to explore the use of simulators in clinical trials," he said.

The simulators helped them evaluate a procedure using a new drug to ween patients off coronary bypass machines. Without simulators, anesthesiologists learn what does and does not work using live patients.

"The idea behind simulation is to let people practice without placing patients at risk," Taekman said.

Simulators give researchers more freedom to perfect protocol -- the complex steps of collecting information in a trial.

"Then, we find out where they make mistakes and if they're consistent mistakes, we can fix them," said Melanie Wright, Duke assistant professor of anesthesiology.

Patient simulators can also throw doctors a curve ball -- such as the lights going out -- to see how they react when the unexpected happens.

The same tricks can be used to perfect a study procedure, which not only makes it safer for patients in a clinical trial, but also improves the quality of medicine for everyone.

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