Breast 'regrowth' trial planned
Researchers in Australia plan to test a medical "scaffold" designed to stimulate natural breast tissue to regrow following surgery.
Doctors from the Bernard O'Brien Institute of Microsurgery in Melbourne, will test the technique next year in a trial involving six patients.
The team say that the permanent fat found in breasts can be grown inside this contoured scaffold. They claim to have successfully tested the device in pigs.
The results of that experiment were presented at a plastic surgery conference in Sydney. The researchers recently announced on the institute's website that they had received funding from the Australian government to carry out the human trial.
If this is successful, they hope to develop it into a breast reconstruction technique that avoids using silicone.
The teams says that when the "empty chamber" is implanted, fat tissue will naturally fill it to form a new breast.
It's at such an early stage, it is not yet clear whether it will work in people - Dr. Lesley Walker, Cancer Research UK.
This chamber will also contain a gel made using the patients' muscle cells to "induce fat tissue production".
Professor Anthony Hollander, an expert in tissue engineering from the University of Bristol in the UK, said the attractions of this approach were its simplicity and the fact that the tissue growth occurred inside the body.
"At the time of implanting the cells the surgeon redirects the vasculature of the body which keeps a good blood supply to the implant. That is in itself nothing new, but combining it with a cell implant is an interesting step," he said.
He said that the technological advance was the use of a biomaterial cage used to trap the cells in the right place.
In future, the team plan to make this cage biodegradable so it does not have to be removed.
"If it's tried and it works that will be a really nice approach," Professor Hollander said.
But he cautioned that there was "still some way to go".
"This procedure is first likely to be used on cancer patients," he said. "[The team will] have to be able to demonstrate a technique that guarantees that all the cancerous cells are removed and none are grown up in the process, so there is still some way to go."
Dr Lesley Walker, director of cancer information at Cancer Research UK, said: "We know that having a mastectomy can be a very difficult experience for many women and so research to try to improve breast reconstruction after surgery is important.
"[But] it's at such an early stage, it is not yet clear whether it will work in people. Even if this surgery proves to be effective, it will be a number of years before it can be used in the clinic."