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Women Breast Cancer Support Charity Concept

Building better breast reconstruction for cancer survivors

ReConstruct is leveraging patient-derived, vascularized tissue to improve the safety of breast reconstruction

By Lindsay Brownell

Women against breast cancer. Beautiful mature and Asian women with pink ribbons on their chests are looking at camera and smiling, on red background
Breast cancer, the most common cancer worldwide, affects nearly 15% of all women. Most of these women undergo some kind of mastectomy to treat their cancer, and 75% choose to have breast reconstruction surgery. Credit: envato Elements/ GeorgeRudy

At the close of Breast Cancer Awareness month, we bring you a story of hope for the millions of women who are diagnosed with this disease. Most breast cancer patients undergo some form of mastectomy, or surgical removal of breast tissue, during treatment. Breast reconstruction is a popular solution for breast cancer survivors to help restore a feeling of normalcy after surgery, but it comes at a price.

All breast implants, whether silicone or saline, must be replaced every 10-15 years, and recent research has shown that they can even cause cancer themselves. The only other alternative, autologous tissue flaps, involves taking fat tissue from elsewhere in the patient’s own body to reconstruct a breast. This process can cause damage and complications both at the donor site and in the breast itself, often because the transplanted tissue fails to get enough blood flow in its new location. In short, there are no safe, long-term solutions on the market for breast cancer survivors.

The ReConstruct Institute Project team at the Wyss Institute, led by Luba Perry, is on a mission to solve that unmet need and help survivors live empowered, healthy lives. Harnessing innovations from the Wyss Institute’s 3D Organ Engineering platform, ReConstruct creates living adipose tissue implants derived from a patient’s own cells. A technique called SWIFT is used to “draw” a network of 3D channels through the tissues to maximize blood flow to its cells. Then, the team uses a proprietary suturable cuff to ensure that the newly implanted tissue can immediately integrate with the patient’s blood supply.

I immediately fell in love with this field and with the ability to build something from scratch in the lab and see it flourish post-implantation in the body.

Luba Perry

A series of in vivo experiments have shown that the ReConstruct adipose tissues are well-perfused with blood following implantation, and showed no signs of cell death or damage to the host for several days.

The ReConstruct team plans to launch a startup to bring its innovation to breast cancer patients, and in the long-term, aims to use their platform to create other soft tissues to treat metabolic disorders like diabetes and obesity. They are currently seeking interested investors, partners, and collaborators to help commercialize their technology. If you are interested in helping to accelerate the development of ReConstruct, please get in touch with Gretchen Fougere.

Breast cancer affects 15% of all women. Current options for breast reconstruction are insufficient and have poor patient outcomes. In this video, Luba Perry describes how her research at the Wyss Institute is addressing this clinical need by fabricating vascularized adipose tissue flaps for therapeutic use. Credit: Wyss Institute at Harvard University
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