When the surgery goes well, breast reconstruction following a mastectomy can offer tremendous outcomes.
But for one in three women who opt for the most popular type of reconstruction—the transfer of tissue from the abdomen to the chest to create a new breast—the procedure is fraught with complications, many of them serious.
A UConn-affiliated medical startup team is working to create a faster, safer technique that will aid plastic surgeons in reconstruction while minimizing the risk of complications.
“As scientists, we want to address medical problems with viable solutions that can change people’s lives,’’ says Jacob Quint, a Ph.D. student in the School of Engineering and member of the InPrint Bio company. “It is why we pursued careers in science in the first place.’’
InPrint Bio’s technology is so unique that the team has applied for a “breakthrough” designation from the FDA, which could shave years off its path to market. The startup has already been approached by several companies and biomedical research labs interested in forming a partnership.
Current Reconstruction Approach Has Drawbacks
Breast cancer is the leading type of cancer globally, with increasing rates of occurrence in the United States. And while improved therapies have increased survival, they have also necessitated the need for better reconstruction techniques.
Patients have two reconstructive options: breast implants or “flap transfers,’’ which transfer skin, fat and muscle from the patient’s stomach area and transplant it to the breast. The latter is generally preferable, offering patients higher quality of life, improved cosmetic satisfaction, reduced hospital readmittance, and higher patient satisfaction than implants.
However, one in three patients who have flap transfers experience a complication. The procedure can result in improper healing of the abdomen, including permanent disability, severe muscle-strength loss, or herniation, which can be fatal. Patients with complications often face additional medical procedures costing more than $10,000. Among those who have mastectomies and opt not to have breast reconstruction, the majority blame the risk of complications as their reason for not pursuing it.
“We believe that reconstructive surgery is not living up to its full potential,’’ Quint says.
InPrint Bio Can Create a Healthier Healing Environment
InPrint Bio’s tool, The BioStylus, allows the plastic surgeon to print a “bio-ink’’ and reconstruct the shape of the resected muscle from the donor site. The material is a natural derivative –whose composition the creators are still keeping under wraps–that adheres to the muscle and supports it, facilitating muscle regeneration and recovery of muscle strength.
“Regeneration in medicine has advanced with skin injuries, but hasn’t been used in the muscle space,’’ Quint says. “We can create an environment so the cells of the muscles grow instead of turning to scar tissue.’’
The InPrint Bio team includes Ali Tamayol, an associate professor in the Department of Biomedical Engineering, a shared department in the schools of Dental Medicine, Medicine, and Engineering, and a former instructor at Harvard School of Medicine who has collaborated with Brigham & Women’s Hospital to study traumatic muscle injuries; and Mohamadmahdi Samandari, a post-doc student in engineering. Quint designed the BioStylus tool. There is nothing like it on the market currently. The team has one patent, one patent pending, and is preparing for pre-clinical trials.
InPrint Bio To Compete in Wolff Challenge This Month
To bring a new medical device to market is neither inexpensive nor easy. The company expects to spend $90 million to develop the device, but would recoup the expense after 10,000 surgeries.
The team recently participated in the Connecticut Center for Entrepreneurship & Innovation (CCEI) Summer Fellowship. Through the School of Business-sponsored bootcamp for entrepreneurs, InPrint Bio found mentors in biomedical research and design manufacturing who offered advice on how to prepare for clinical trials. At the conclusion of the Summer Fellowship program, InPrint Bio was selected as one of five finalists to compete for a $20,000 grand prize in the Wolff New Venture Competition on Oct. 25.
“With medical devices there are strict regulations, as there should be,’’ Quint said. “Our pathways are much longer than some startups, but we have a solid team and feel really confident that we will succeed. We want to see people go on to a full life after they battle cancer.’’
InPrint Bio is one of five startups competing at the Wolff New Venture Competition on Monday, Oct. 25 from 5 to 7:30 p.m. The winner will receive $20,000 toward their new venture. To learn more about the competition or to register to watch the live presentation online, please visit: https://ccei.uconn.edu/wolff-new-venture-competition/