3-D Printed Implants Could Regrow BreastsKatie Taylor
3-D printing technology is changing the face of manufacturing, healthcare, and even fashion. When you can print a 3-D object—using an increasing number of materials in increasingly shorter amounts of time—what took days, weeks, or even years is suddenly a next-day (or sooner) possibility. Advances in 3-D printing technology are rapidly making the impossible the possible, and mastectomy patients may be among the first to benefit.
Researchers from Queensland University of Technology believe that a 3-D printed biodegradable scaffold could provide the foundation, literally, for regrowing breast tissue in mastectomy patients. After six years of research, they’re ready to begin human trials.
Currently, post-mastectomy options include having tissue taken from another area of the body and transferred to the breast area (such as in free flap surgery or fat tissue transfer), getting a synthetic implant, or remaining flat-chested.
No option is without its drawbacks. Flap surgery involves new scarring, inserted fat tissue may be redistributed over time, and synthetic breast implants may cause post-surgery complications. Going flat seems the simplest, but a woman may miss the look and feel of her breast or breasts.
3-D printing offers something entirely new: a platform on which a woman can regrow a new, natural breast.
The procedure would first involve having a pre-operative 3-D scan to provide the information necessary to create a personalized breast scaffold design. The scaffold would be printed using a biodegradable polymer strong enough to support the growing breast. After mastectomy, the scaffold would be implanted into a patient’s chest and then be filled with a patient’s own cells as well as a growth enhancer. Then, if all went well, nature would take over.
The scaffold would hold its shape while new fat cells formed, eventually creating a new breast. The biodegradable scaffold would eventually disappear, leaving a patient with only her own self-grown tissue. So far animal trials, according to 9news.com, have been 100 percent successful, and the technology is now ready for human testing.
There is some precedent for 3-D printed implants working. In August of 2017, Reuben Lichter had to choose between undergoing an experimental surgery that would implant a 3-D printed tibia into his leg, or facing amputation due to a rare bone infection. Mr. Lichter chose the implant, and a year later, his doctor believes enough bone has regenerated on the implanted structure that Mr. Lichter will be able to start walking again.
If human trials are successful, this technology could provide a breast replacement option that feels and looks natural—because it will be. The technology could potentially be used for nipple reconstruction one day, and if advances continue, 3-D printing could open up a new world of possibilities for regrowing lost or damaged tissue in patients around the world.