Breast Reconstruction Safer and Accurate


January 3, 2012


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Cosmetic surgeons will soon be able to perform safer and more realistic breast reconstruction surgery by using computer aided design (CAD) that produces moulds accurately modelled on a laser scan of a patient’s healthy breasts.

This is the conclusion of a recent research project that professor Dietmar W. Hutmacher from Queensland University of Technology - the Institute of Health and Biomedical Innovation (IHBI) - conducted in collaboration with engineers and surgeons in Singapore and Germany.

As part of the study, surgeons successfully used the moulds during three tissue reconstruction operations. The three patients reported higher levels of satisfaction with the surgery results than those in a control group.

"Previously the surgeon would do everything by eye and feel. With the mould they have a physical template to check out the exact shape and tissue volume needed for the reconstruction surgery," said Professor Hutmacher.

So far, these moulds proved useful in surgery where tissue was taken from a patient's own body, for example, their abdomen. Professor Hutmacher is taking things further and is now developing the technology so that it can allow for breast tissue engineering. He has also used the CAD to create biodegradable 3D scaffolds, on which a patient's own tissue could be grown.

"When you think about the volume of a breast, to recreate this with randomly shaped tissue removed from elsewhere on a patient's body is quite difficult. Normally patients have two or three operations to enable the surgeon to correct and get the shape right," explained Professor Hutmacher.

"With scaffolding you can get the shape and form right from the beginning, using a small amount of tissue - around one cubic centimetre - from the patient. The scaffold is biodegradable and will dissolve in two to three years, whereas silicone implants, the most common material used in breast reconstruction surgery, stays forever and can cause a number of long-term problems such as fibrous encapsulation.

Professor Hutmacher is currently testing different materials for the scaffolding and aims to have this technology ready for clinical use in three to five years.

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