Breast cancer survivors who have had a mastectomy and later breast reconstructive surgery often suffer from psychological distress about their body image, studies show, and much of that distress comes from the absence of nipples.
A Northwest Austin biotechnology company is seeking to improve women’s body images by using a 3-D printer to create nipples made from human cells.
TeVido Biodevices CEO and co-founder Laura Bosworth said the company is working to develop reconstructed nipples in two phases. The first step is creating pigmentation to match a person’s areola, which could be ready for human clinical trials in two years, depending on funding, she said.
The pigmentation would be an alternative to tattooing, which is the common current practice but often fades within a few years and needs retouching, Bosworth said.
In three to four years, Bosworth predicts TeVido could have the second phase of the product—a nipple projection—ready for human clinical trials.
When the complete product—the pigmentation and the projection—hits the market, the plastic surgeon performing the breast reconstruction would send TeVido a small sample of the patient’s fat and skin from the breast.
Scientists at TeVido would separate the tissue by type, such as fat cells and skin cells. Then, they would use the cells to create a “bio-ink” that could be used in a 3-D printer being developed specifically for TeVido. The company would then send the nipple back to the plastic surgeon for implantation.
Under current practices, once a mastectomy patient’s reconstructed breast mound is healed, the surgeon cuts and pinches the peak of the breast mound to create the appearance of a nipple, Bosworth said. After that heals, the patient can then get a tattoo to create the appearance of an areola’s color and texture, she said.
“The results are pretty unpredictable,” she said.
Surgeons tell her the pinched skin often flattens and the tattoo ink—which is mostly light flesh tones—does not last. Women have to undergo the procedure multiple times, she said.