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Advancing Breast Cancer Reconstruction with 3D Bioprinting

Image credits: otago.ac.nz

Associate Professor Jaydee Cabral, a researcher from the Department of Microbiology and Immunology at Otago University, is creating a project focused on developing 3D-printed nipple areolar complexes specifically designed for breast cancer patients. The objective of this innovative research is to support individuals who have had a mastectomy (breast-conserving surgery), helping them regain a sense of self-confidence.

Despite significant advancements in mastectomy procedures, there is still a prevailing gap in clinical solutions to effectively replace the nipple area that can be lost during surgery. This absence of suitable options has been a persistent challenge for breast cancer patients seeking aesthetic restoration and psychological well-being after mastectomy. The absence of a clinically available replacement for the nipple area has left many patients with limited choices and compromised body image and self-confidence outcomes.

By utilising the advanced 3D printing technology, Professor Cabral and her team were able to create customisable and highly accurate nipple areolar complexes that closely mimic the natural appearance and texture of the breast of the patient.

“My research resides at the interface of chemistry, microbiology, and bioengineering to develop novel medical devices for various biomedical applications and I would love to bring students into this global phenomenon,” Professor Cabral said.

This 3D bio print technique technology utilises a specialised bioprinter capable of creating a gel-based environment that is conducive to cell growth and serves as a scaffold system. The gel provides a cell-friendly structure where the cells can organise themselves into more intricate living structures.

The technique involves using water-loving polymers with a soft texture suitable for the extrusion of 3D printing. These polymers provide a cell-friendly environment, allowing cells to grow into complex living structures. The process involves carefully extruding the polymers using a bioprinter, layer by layer, to create the desired three-dimensional object.

Once the printing is finished, UV light solidifies the structure into a more rigid form. UV light enhances the molecular bonds within the material, strengthening it and enabling seamless integration with surrounding tissues.

Dr Cabral’s research expertise lies in developing 3D bio-printed vasculature, specifically focusing on the intricate network of blood vessels. The creation of thicker tissue poses unique challenges compared to thinner tissue due to the increased risk of inadequate oxygen levels and limited nutrient supply, which can result in tissue necrosis.

A recipient of the Royal Society of New Zealand’s Catalyst Seed Fund, she said that this research is important because there is currently nothing clinically available to replace the nipple area that can be lost during a mastectomy.

Consequently, there is a growing need for innovative research and development efforts to bridge this gap and provide breast cancer patients with reconstructive alternatives that can restore the natural appearance of the nipple area.

The 3D bioprinting approach holds great potential in revolutionising innovations, particularly in the field of regenerative medicine and tissue engineering. It represents a significant advancement in reconstructive surgery for breast cancer patients.

Dr Cabral is optimistic that her innovation in addressing the challenge of vascularisation for thicker tissue, such as creating 3D bio-printed vasculature, will create opportunities which could lead to other remarkable advancements in tissue engineering in the future.

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