Biomedical Engineer Developing 3-D Printed Breast Implants for Cancer Patients

Research headed by Thomas Boland, Ph.D., director of biomedical engineering at The University of Texas at El Paso, is leading to the development of 3-D printed breast implants for cancer patients who have undergone lumpectomies.

TeVido BioDevices, which currently holds a license agreement with UTEP on Boland’s patent-pending technology, was formed to transition the research into the commercial space. TeVido recently received a National Science Foundation grant to continue this work.

“We’re working to take fat cells through liposuction from the patients, then having [the cells] treated, printed, and fitted to the lump removal for implant,” said Boland, who is also the co-founder and chief science officer of TeVido Biodevices.

“About 150,000 women a year have lumpectomies due to breast cancer and they have no good option for reconstruction,” Boland said. “Sometimes they even opt for the removal of the entire breast because then they can actually have a complete reconstruction – like Angelina Jolie did a few weeks ago.”

To fill a lumpectomy void, women may opt for fat grafting, a series of fat injections that may not be successful, or even breast reduction and reconstruction, where the healthy breast is reduced in size to match the reconstructed breast.

Women who opt for removal of the entire breast may face a foreign body response to the silicone or saline-filled implants. Symptoms include pain, scarring and tissue contraction, where the breast begins to appear abnormal and is no longer symmetrical. Some saline-filled implants may even rupture.

However, that could all be avoided with TeVido’s 3-D printed implants.

“What we’re going to do is take the patient’s very own cells and use them so that there won’t be a foreign body response,” Boland said.

He believes the technology is capable of printing larger implants for patients who have undergone complete mastectomies, and that is a definite possibility for the future. However, more research is needed on printing larger volumes first.

The American Cancer Society predicts that in 2013 nearly 300,000 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer, and according to the AARP, up to 75 percent of them will opt for a lumpectomy.

In the future, researchers expect the technology to be capable of helping those who suffer from severe burns and chronic, non-healing wounds.