An injectable tissue implant made of cells and tiny beads promises restoration following breast cancer surgery as well as improved bone reconstruction and spinal disc repair.

Karen Burg, a bioengineer from Clemson University in South Carolina, created the implant to reduce scarring, restore the breast’s natural shape and promote healing after surgery.

“It’s thrilling to be a part of a project that could have such a profound impact on women’s lives,” she says.

Breast cancer

Cancer occurs when cells unnecessarily divide rapidly.

The most common type of breast cancer is ductal carcinoma, which begins in the lining of the breast’s milk ducts.

There are more than 240,000 new cases of breast cancer a year in the US alone.

Treatment can involve removal of cancerous lumps, lumpectomy, or complete removal of breasts, mastectomy.

Both can lead to disfigurement.

Cell scaffolding

Burg’s implant addresses such disfigurement.

The implant is made by growing donor cells on a scaffolding of tiny beads, mixing the scaffolding with a gel and injecting the mixture into the breast.

The gel and the beads get absorbed and leave only cells that grow to fill a damaged area.

Transferable technique

The implant could provide permanent biologically based reconstructive solutions for the estimated 74,000 people who undergo breast reconstruction each year to repair damage from invasive procedures such as lumpectomies and mastectomies.

It could also be transferable to other restorative surgeries such as those for bone reconstruction and spinal disc repair.

The implant could be ready for human use within 10 to 15 years.

For her work on it, Burg was named one of the world’s Top Young Innovators of 2003 by Technology Review magazine.
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