Melbourne surgeons have developed a revolutionary technique to help women grow breast tissue after a mastectomy.
The technique, called Neopec, involves implanting an acrylic breast-shaped chamber into a woman's breast then using a patient's own fat cells to regenerate breasts.
The researchers at Melbourne's O'Brien Institute of Microsurgery have had success in one of five women involved in a trial, and are now entering the next stage of research to increase the odds of success.
All five women had undergone mastectomies, but were unsuitable for flap surgery, where fat is transplanted from another part of the body to the breasts.
In the successful case, the surgeons implanted 30 cubic centimetres of fat cells into the acrylic chamber. After a year, the fat cells had grown to be 180 cubic centimetres before the acrylic chamber was removed.
In the other patients, three had no tissue regeneration, while the other participant withdrew from the trial because the acrylic chamber was painful and dug into her ribs.
Lindel Thorburn, managing director of Neopec Pty Ltd, who are developing the technique, told ninemsn that if they can perfect it, the surgery will be a great alternative to silicone implants and flap surgery.
"Silicon breast implants are relatively easy to do, but they stay the same size and shape for the rest of your life. So if you put on weight, or you lose weight, the breast that has that implant doesn't alter and your other breast does," Thorburn explained.
"The flap surgery is a lot more difficult. People are under anesthetic for a lot longer and it takes more recovery and leaves more scarring. Plus it's much more expensive. With Neopec, in theory you're using the person's own tissue, but you're inducing the body to do it itself, rather than the surgeon having to cut and move things around."
Ideally, Thorburn said women's fat cells would start regenerating within six months.
"The acrylic chamber we used for the original surgery for this trial had to be removed at the end of the trial. In the longer term, we would hope to use some sort of material that is bio-degradable," she said.
But Thorburn admitted it will be at least five years before the technique is available commercially to women who have had mastectomies.
"There are a lot of people working on different aspects of tissue regeneration, but we have got a particular approach using a chamber that is quite revolutionary," she said.
"Now we need to raise some funds and design some experiments to determine why we have had different results with our women than we did with our pre-clinical studies. We need to prove it works sufficiently to get it into the market so people can benefit from it."