The work is headed by Karen Burg, a Clemson bioengineer just named to MIT's Technology Review 100 top innovators list. Burg's work with injectable transplants could one day provide breast-cancer patients a viable reconstructive surgical solution for damage left by lumpectomies and other invasive procedures. The implant, made of donor cells grown onto tiny beads, could reduce scarring, help restore the breast's natural shape and promote quicker surgical recoveries, said Burg, a Clemson alumna recruited to Clemson four years ago to help develop its tissue engineering program.
"It's thrilling to be a part of a project that could have such a profound impact on women's lives," said Burg, an associate bioengineering professor.
The research calls for cells to be grown on a scaffolding of tiny beads, then mixed with a gel and injected into the human body. Gel and beads are absorbed, leaving only the cells, which grow to fill the damaged area.
If the testing goes well, the injectable transplant technology could be ready for use in humans within 10 to 15 years. Burg's work could provide the first permanent biologically based reconstructive solution for breast-cancer survivors. The need is immense: An estimated 74,000-plus American women undergo breast reconstructions each year to repair damage from invasive procedures such as lumpectomies and mastectomies.
Burg's research also has potential in bone reconstruction and spinal disc repair. Treatment of patients with tissue and organ failure, which includes bone, accounts for approximately 50 percent of a total health care cost of $400 billion in the United States.
Burg's research has drawn wide attention from the scientific community.