Thursday, November 12, 2009

Neopec surgery regrows breasts using stem cells

AUSTRALIAN scientists are poised to begin radical new surgery to help breast cancer victims regrow their own breasts within months.

The world-first trial could also revolutionise the billion-dollar international cosmetic surgery industry by allowing women to grow their own bigger natural breasts.

The experimental technique, called Neopec, could replace breast reconstructions and implants within years.

The trial offers new hope to more than 5000 Australian women who lose their breasts to cancer each year.

Five Melbourne women have been selected to undergo the procedure at St Vincent's Hospital early next year.

The trial is believed to be just the second time in the world tissue engineering has been carried out in a human.

Bernard O'Brien Institute director Professor Wayne Morrison said using the stem cells of our own fat to regenerate body parts was a huge step forward.

If successful, the Neopec technology could be widely available to cancer patients after a three-year trial but it will probably be a decade before it could be used for cosmetic purposes.

Neopec relies on surgeons implanting a biodegradable synthetic breast-shaped chamber beneath the skin to act as a scaffold for the new breast.

They then redirect a blood vessel from the woman's underarm to a 5ml piece of the patient's own fat which grows to fill the space and form a new breast over four to six months.

The fat tissue stops growing when it reaches the chamber, which then degrades.

The technique has already been proven in pigs, which grew new breasts in just six weeks.

Prof Morrison said the breast replacement technique could be the tip of the iceberg.

"If it is satisfactory we could use this method to treat any type of contour defect, whether it is breast, a congenital deformity or trauma such as where someone has suddenly lost chunks of themself," Prof Morrison said.

He also expects the research will lead to huge commercial outcomes. "We strongly believe that if this works it will replace silicone implants," Prof Morrison said.

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