Advancing breast tissue engineering into clinical practice utilising 3-dimensional scanning and bioprinting techniques

Current breast reconstruction options are limited and involve replacing breast with implants, or transferring existing tissue. Tissue engineering presents a promising solution to breast reconstruction by regenerating tissue rather than replacing it. This multidisciplinary research group aims to regenerate breast tissue using adipose stem cells and biodegradable breast scaffolds, which are customised to patients using 3-D scanning technology, computer aided design and 3-D printing. 

Head Researcher

Professor Dietmar W. Hutmacher, Chair in Regenerative Medicine, IHBI, QUT

Team Members
  • Dr Mohit Chhaya, Postdoctoratal Research Fellow, IHBI QUT
  • Professor Owen Ung, Breast Surgeon RBWH, UQ SoM
  • Dr Clement Wong, Breast Surgeon, RBWH, UQ SoM
  • Dr Michael Wagels, Plastic and Reconstructive Surgeon, PAH, UQ SoM
  • Dr Ian Bennet, Chairman Breast and Endocrine Surgery, PAH, UQ SoM
  • Dr Matthew Cheng, PAH, UQ SOM, PhD student IHBI QUT
  • Dr. Phon Trang Postdoctoratal Research Fellow, IHBI QUT
  • Ms Stephanie Piper, PhD student, IHBI QUT
  • Ms Madeline Hintz, MSci student, IHBI QUT
  • Mr. Luke Vischer, Medical student, UQ
Body Part Breast
Equipment Used David SLS-2 3-D scanner
Process Used 3-D imaging, computer aided design, 3-D printing, fat grafting, biofabrication
Research Areas Breast reconstruction, tissue engineering, regenerative medicine, 3-D imaging 
Disease Breast cancer – reconstruction 
Tags Reconstruction, tissue engineering, breast, cancer, surgery, 3-D imaging, scaffolds
Commercial Partnerships Bella Seno GmbH, 
Institutions Institute of Health and Biomedical Innovation (IHBI) QUT, Princess Alexandra Hospital (PAH), Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital (RBWH), Medical Engineering Research Facility (MERF)

About the Project

Description of clinical or health care problem or issue

Breast reconstruction is integral for women undergoing breast cancer surgery. Current reconstructive options include synthetic breast implantation, free flap surgery or autologous fat tissue transfer, all of which replace tissue rather than regenerate it. These techniques are limited by issues such as capsular contraction, donor site complications and inconsistent fat tissue resorption. Additionally, not all patients are suitable for some of these major reconstructive surgeries. Tissue engineering presents a solution to regenerate breast tissue using biodegradable breast scaffolds and the patient’s own adipose stem cells which is less invasive, more accessible and may result in a more natural shape and feel to the reconstructed breasts.

Description of science

This research group aims to create a streamlined process from pre-operative assessment to reconstructive surgery. Three Dimensional (3-D) scanning technology will be used to scan patients pre-operatively to gather data on breast size and shape. This technology involves imaging breasts without radiation, using light surface scanners to generate an individualised 3-D model of breasts based on patient data. This data, with use of computer aided design, will be sent to a 3-D printer which will generate customised biodegradable breast scaffolds. An important aspect is to optimise the mechanical properties of the scaffold so it closely replicates a natural breast. These scaffolds will be implanted and filled with adipose stem cells following breast cancer surgery. Scaffold technology will provide a structure for adipose cells to proliferate and reduce resorption. Finally, these scaffolds will dissolve leaving regenerated connective tissue breasts.

Translational outcomes

3-Dimensional Scanning Technology:

A major outcome is validating the accuracy of 3-D scanning technology in determining breast shape and volume. Once established, this will allow accurate customised breast scaffolds to be generated for use in breast reconstruction.

Scaffold Technology:

Important outcomes in scaffold technology includes determining the mechanical properties, volume of adipose tissue generated, and retention of volume over time. Scaffolds provide structure, a favourable environment to generate adipose tissue and prevent resorption over time. Once established, scaffold technology in combination with 3-D scanning will provide a unique reconstructive method where breasts can be anatomically regenerated.

We also aim to utilise this scaffold technology to assist in nipple reconstruction. 

The video below shows the 3D printing of the scaffold prototype in action at the World Science Festival 2017.

Translational Research - Milestone T1

Preliminary large animal studies have demonstrated good adipose volume generation and retention using breast scaffolds. Large scale, long-tem animal studies are currently being conducted to determine optimum scaffold design, placement, fat tissue transfer timing and long-term outcomes.

We are currently conducting studies validating the use of 3-D scanning to determine breast size and shape .

Future plans involve conducting human clinical trials incorporating 3-D scanners to generate customised breast scaffolds and trials on nipple reconstructions using this scaffold technology. 

> For further information on the commercial development contact Dr Matthew Cheng or Professor Dietmar W Hutmacher PAH, UQ SOM, PhD student IHBI QUT. [email protected]

> For information about donating to this project email Dr Matthew Cheng or Professor Dietmar W Hutmacher PAH, UQ SOM, PhD student IHBI QUT. [email protected]