Breast Implants That Can Deter Cancer?

Implants May Offer New Weapon in the Fight Against Breast Cancer

According to estimates from the American Cancer Society, in 2011, an estimated 230,480 new cases of invasive breast cancer —cancer that has spreads to surrounding breast tissue — were expected to be diagnosed in U.S. women. For most women with breast cancer, treatment includes surgery combined with radiation therapy, chemotherapy, hormone therapy, and/or targeted therapy.

But while the goal of a mastectomy (removal of the breast tissue) is to remove the cells that caused breast cancer, it can leave the patient feeling insecure about her appearance. The solution then is to undergo some form of breast reconstruction, including breast augmentation either with tissue from her own body (autologous) or with a saline or silicone breast implant. Neither choice delays post-operative chemotherapy, prolongs recovery, or hinders the diagnosis of local cancer recurrence.

According to the American Association for Cancer Research, undergoing immediate breast reconstruction after mastectomy “improves psychological well-being and quality of life and provides women with improved body image and self-esteem compared with delaying the procedure.”

Unfortunately, for about one-in-five breast cancer survivors who have completed five years of adjuvant therapy (additional treatment after surgery to help prevent cancer from returning), breast cancer returns within 10 years of their treatment, notes the American Cancer Society.

But thanks to researchers at Brown University, breast reconstruction and treatment to inhibit breast cancer recurrence may be combined into one approach: a breast implant that may actually help deter cancer cells from growing. The key lies in the surface of the implant, which was modified at the nanoscale (dimensions one-billionth of a meter, or 1/50,000th the width of a human hair) to create a “bed of nails” surface.

Because cancer cells are relatively stiff compared to healthy cells, they are unable to wrap around the bumpy surface of the implant. This reduces the blood-vessel architecture on which breast cancer tumors depend, while also attracting healthy endothelial cells for breast tissue. The implant is made of 23-nanometer-diameter polystyrene beads and polylactic-co-glycolic acid (PLGA), a biodegradable polymer approved by the FDA used widely in clinical settings, which results in a surface covered with adjoining, 23-nanometer-high pimples.

According to Thomas Webster, Associate Professor of Engineering and the corresponding author on the paper in Nanotechnology, the implant design can at least decrease the cancerous cell functions without requiring the use of chemotherapeutics, radiation, or other processes. After one day, lab tests showed that the 23-nanometer-peak surfaces had a 15-percent decrease in the production of a protein (VEGF) upon which endothelial breast-cancer cells depend, compared to an implant surface with no surface modification, as well as 15 percent more healthy endothelial breast cells compared to normal surface.

Webster, who together with graduate student Lijuan Zhang conducted this study, will next investigate why the nanomodified surfaces deter malignant breast cells, create surface features that yield greater results, and determine whether other materials can be used.

The National Institutes of Health’s National Center for Research Resources and the Hermann Foundation have funded this research. And, once FDA approval has been given for the implant, it can become the latest weapon in the fight against breast cancer.

ImplantInfo also supports breast cancer research through the Cristine Meredith Miele Foundation.

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