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QUB researchers 4D print personalized ‘smart’ breast implants

These multipurpose implants, developed by researchers from Queen’s University Belfast, are programmed to change size to better fit within the breast cavity, and have the ability to release chemotherapy drugs

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Researchers from Queen’s University Belfast (QUB) have reportedly created personalized 4D printed “smart” implants for breast cancer management. These multipurpose implants are programmed to change size to better fit within the breast cavity – resulting in personalization to an individual’s body, therefore, improving aesthetic and confidence outcomes for those who have or have had breast cancer. The implants also have the ability to release chemotherapy drugs – protecting the patients from the return of the cancer cells in the area.

The research has been published in the journal Science Direct.

The study was conducted by a team from the School of Pharmacy at QUB led by Professor Dimitrios Lamprou, Chair of Biofabrication and Advanced Manufacturing, and includes Dr. Niamh Buckley, Reader from the School of Pharmacy; Sofia Moroni, Ph.D. student from the School of Pharmacy at QUB and the University of Urbino Carlo Bo, in Italy; and Rachel Bingham, a Ph.D. student from the School of Pharmacy at QUB. The research team collaborated with Professor Luca Casettari from the University of Urbino Carlo Bo in Italy.

Breast cancer is the second most common cancer worldwide, especially among females. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), more than 2.3 million cases occur each year and around 30% of cases die from the disease – making it the most common cancer among adults. Around 1,400 women in Northern Ireland are diagnosed with breast cancer every year.

Emerging technologies, such as 4D printing, present an opportunity to improve the management of breast cancer through the development of smart implants. 4D printing is the manufacturing of dynamic 3D printed objects that can change their morphology and/or characteristics. These changes are predictable and programmable, and are enabled by one or more external stimuli, such as the variation in the pH, temperature, humidity, light, or the presence of a magnetic field.

Common transformations are related to shape-shifting abilities, such as folding, bending, twisting, expansion, and shrinkage, while property changes include color, stiffness, and swelling ratio. This is achieved by using stimuli-responsive materials, also called ‘smart materials’.

The research team manufactured implants via a 4D bioprinter which contains doxorubicin that enables the implants to change size to better fit within the breast cavity. Due to the small size of these new breast implants, they are also more affordable and easier to manufacture, meaning they can be prepared in hospitals for direct and personalized treatment, which reduces costs and provides better options for patients.

“This innovative idea started after discussions with doctors and patients, explaining to us the challenges in operation, management, and everyday life. By making, for the first time, these 4D printed implants, the breast cavity after surgery can be covered with an implant that mimics the elasticity of the breast and provide better management of the breast cancer by releasing a chemotherapeutic drug that will ‘keep away’ the return of the tumor,” said Professor Dimitrios Lamprou, the lead on the project.

“Chemotherapy plays a crucial role in the treatment of breast cancer, but it is associated with harsh side effects. The use of technology such as this, which allows a concentrated delivery of the drug just to where it is needed, can help make treatment more effective and kinder,” said Dr. Niamh Buckley.

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Edward Wakefield

Edward is a freelance writer and additive manufacturing enthusiast looking to make AM more accessible and understandable.

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