Image via Healshape
When you think of breast implants, a chicken cutlet-shaped slab of silicone might come to mind. Silicone is the most common material for breast reconstructions, but it has rightfully gained a bad rep for its contamination and rupture risks and making patients feel uncomfortably cold on days out in the winter.
Doctors, in fact, recommend flap surgeries for breast cancer survivors instead. These take a sample from another part of the body—such as the tummy, thigh, or back—to form the new ‘breast’, and they’re more long-lasting than silicone implants, which would require replacements every 10 years or so.
Flaps, however, are a long-winded procedure, and not many patients would be mentally prepared for them after having endured the trauma of cancer.
A new tier of implants sets out to overcome the discomfort and complications tied to silicone implants, as well as the time taken for reconstructions.
One manufacturer, Lattice Medical, has a unique 3D-printed implant that grows into a new, natural breast over time.
The insert is hollow at first, resembling a cage, and it’s then filled with a small sample of healthy tissue from the patient’s body. Eventually, the tissue grows into fat that fills the cage.
Image via Lattice Medical
The ‘cage’ implant is made from a fully degradable biopolymer, so it fully dissolves into the body after about 18 months.
The Guardian reports that human trials for this variation, called ‘Matisse’, will begin in Georgia on July 11, making the company the first to test an implant of this ilk on humans.
Another startup working on its own breast implant is Healshape. Its version is a soft insert 3D-printed from resorbable hydrogel.
Once inside the body, the implant is gradually colonized by fat cells. The implant itself disappears into the body months later, leaving behind a natural breast.
Healshape’s breast implant, which is fully customizable, is scheduled to start clinical trials in a couple of years, CEO Sophie Brac de la Perrière tells the Guardian.
Patients’ breasts might regrow from these reconstructions, but it remains to be known if their sensations may return. With conventional implants, it’s common to experience numbness due to potential nerve damage, while patients who opt for flap surgeries may only get the feeling in their breasts back after a few years.
It would take some time before scientists can prove the effectiveness of dissolvable breast implants, but it’s a ray of hope for the two million people globally who are diagnosed with breast cancer.
[via The Guardian, 3D Printing Industry, Sifted, images via various sources]