About the Project

Description of clinical or health care problem or issue

Breast reconstruction is integral for women undergoing breast cancer surgery. Current reconstructive options include synthetic breast implantation, free flap surgery or autologous fat tissue transfer, all of which replace tissue rather than regenerate it. These techniques are limited by issues such as capsular contraction, donor site complications and inconsistent fat tissue resorption. Additionally, not all patients are suitable for some of these major reconstructive surgeries. Tissue engineering presents a solution to regenerate breast tissue using biodegradable breast scaffolds and the patient’s own adipose stem cells which is less invasive, more accessible and may result in a more natural shape and feel to the reconstructed breasts.

Description of science

This research group aims to create a streamlined process from pre-operative assessment to reconstructive surgery. Three Dimensional (3-D) scanning technology will be used to scan patients pre-operatively to gather data on breast size and shape. This technology involves imaging breasts without radiation, using light surface scanners to generate an individualised 3-D model of breasts based on patient data. This data, with use of computer aided design, will be sent to a 3-D printer which will generate customised biodegradable breast scaffolds. An important aspect is to optimise the mechanical properties of the scaffold so it closely replicates a natural breast. These scaffolds will be implanted and filled with adipose stem cells following breast cancer surgery. Scaffold technology will provide a structure for adipose cells to proliferate and reduce resorption. Finally, these scaffolds will dissolve leaving regenerated connective tissue breasts.

Translational outcomes

3-Dimensional Scanning Technology:

A major outcome is validating the accuracy of 3-D scanning technology in determining breast shape and volume. Once established, this will allow accurate customised breast scaffolds to be generated for use in breast reconstruction.

Scaffold Technology:

Important outcomes in scaffold technology includes determining the mechanical properties, volume of adipose tissue generated, and retention of volume over time. Scaffolds provide structure, a favourable environment to generate adipose tissue and prevent resorption over time. Once established, scaffold technology in combination with 3-D scanning will provide a unique reconstructive method where breasts can be anatomically regenerated.

We also aim to utilise this scaffold technology to assist in nipple reconstruction.

The video below shows the 3D printing of the scaffold prototype in action at the World Science Festival 2017.

This article has been originally published by TRI