Grow your own breast implants

Breast implants could one day be a thing of the past, as a new technology that allows patients to grow their own begins to take shape at the University of Melbourne.

Researchers at the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering and the Bernard O’Brien Institute of Microsurgery at St. Vincent’s Hospital in Melbourne are developing a technology for growing human body parts in the lab that can then be implanted back into the body.

The technique involves building 3D scaffolds that mimic the body’s own framework, in the hope that this artificial system will encourage natural life to grow.

Senior researcher Professor Geoffrey Stevens says, “The loss or failure of an organ or tissue is one of the most frequent, devastating and costly problems in Australian medical health care.”

“We are developing a new field of tissue engineering that uses living cells in artificial supporting scaffolds that replace missing tissues. This is a technology for growing human body parts that uses patients’ own cells in the lab and transplants the engineered living tissue back into the body.”

The main focus of the research is to grow human tissue, and in particular fat tissue, on these artificial scaffolds in the hope they will replace current silicone or saline breast implants.

Ms Yang Cao, who is in the final year of her PhD research says the biodegradable scaffolds serve as a physical support to provide the appropriate architecture for tissue regeneration.

Professor Stevens says the design of these scaffolds has been one of the largest gaps in the knowledge base of engineering and there are a number of factors that impact on the design, making it a tricky feat for tissue engineers.

Ms Cao says that the interaction between the regenerating tissue and scaffold architecture has not been very well understood, particularly in respect to large metabolic tissues, such as fat tissue.

For the past three years, she has been working on the design of biodegradable scaffolds.

“The resulting scaffold significantly helps tissue regeneration. Recent tests have shown the successful regeneration of fat tissue, which has particular promise for the growth of new breast tissue,” she says.

The collaboration between the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering and the Bernard O’Brien Institute of Microsurgery has led to the creation of the Victoria Tissue Engineering Centre (VTEC) which aims to commercialise the creation of real human body parts in Australia.

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