Texas company working on better breast implants from an inkjet printer
TeVido BioDevices is working to commercialize technology that would allow doctors to use a patient’s own fat to print a customized breast implant. The initial focus is reconstructive surgery after breast cancer, but the technology could also make plastic surgery cheaper and more successful.
Co-founder Laura Bosworth-Bucher said that the printer is similar to an inkjet many students use to print school papers, but modified to shoot out proteins instead of ink. The protein mixture is a composite of gelatin and alginate and it is printed onto specialized gel. An aluminum plate added to the printer’s paper feeding sensor and two switches along the y-axis of the machine help to evenly distribute the gelatin into the form.
Co-founder Thomas Boland, Ph.D. is the inventor of the technology and CTO for TeVido. He is also the Director of Biomedical Engineering at the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP).
The company just won a Phase I SBIR grant for $150,000 and plans to apply for a Phase II grant in the summer.
“We highlighted the idea that ours could be a platform and picked a target market,” Bosworth-Bucher said. “Once we get this working, it could be used in a large portfolio of applications. We’re focusing on filling a small tumor void as our first product.”
The problem with current breast implants is fat volume retention.
“Fat gets reabsorbed when we want it to stay in place and be predictable,” Bosworth-Bucher said.
She said that the team is working to prove that this new fat implant will connect with the host and keep it alive. The current focus is tiny implants in mice.
“Next the work will be to expand the size capability and prove that it works over larger sizes,” Bosworth-Bucher said.
The technology could also be used for nipple reconstruction, using skin created from a similar process. About 200,000 women are diagnosed with breast cancer every year. A study of more than 100,000 insured women with breast cancer who underwent mastectomy between 2000 and 2010 showed that 42% of women younger than 50 and 17% of women 50 and older had immediate reconstruction. The study also found that younger women with insurance were most likely to get reconstructive surgery.
For soft tissue reconstruction, a surgeon could use liposuction to extract autologous fat cells from the patient during a lumpectomy. The fat cells would be used to build the soft tissue replacement construct and replaced into the patient in a later surgery.
TeVido’s technology could reduce the cost of surgery, making it more accessible. The process for nipple reconstruction would require a biopsy performed in a clinic or doctor’s office and then used to build an autologous skin-equivalent graft. This could eliminate the need for surgery to obtain a skin graft, reducing the cost of the procedure and the risk and discomfort for the patient.
The plastic surgery market is another opportunity. There were 286,274 breast implant surgeries last year in the United States. Millennium Research Group estimated market in Europe and America for breast implants to be $1.1 billion by 2016.
Bosworth-Buchers is a former Fortune 50 executive and an engineer with a background in manufacturing and process design. When she retired and started donating her time to help new companies, she found that most volunteer work didn’t require her level of expertise.
“I started working with the university and helped them develop a strategy for innovation and entrepreneurship,” she said. “That’s when I got introduced to the professor.”
Then about a year ago she met Scott Collins, who had completed a PhD in biomedical engineering after a successful exit in another industry.
“He has been with us over a year now, and is our VP of product development and the lead PI on this grant,” Bosworth-Bucher said.
Bosworth-Bucher said the company is three to four years away from human studies, depending on how fast funding comes in. The company has pending patents on tissue engineering methods.
Additional reporting by Chris Seper
[Images of Thomas Boland and printer by Aurelio Hernandez from The University of Texas at El Paso News Service]