Crowd & Proud - Reconstructing Hope, One 3D-Printed Nipple at a Time

Breast cancer survivors face both physical and psychological challenges. TeVido BioDevices gives women hope for a return to normalcy via a cutting-edge technology that creates custom 3D-printed nipple grafts to replace those altered or removed via mastectomy.
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Breast cancer survivors face both physical and psychological challenges. TeVido BioDevices gives women hope for a return to normalcy via a cutting-edge technology that creates custom 3D-printed nipple grafts to replace those altered or removed via mastectomy.

For women recovering from breast cancer and its body-altering surgeries, reconstruction is a critical step in the healing process. One hurdle has not been surmounted. While implants restore the shape of breasts, nipples are often tattooed (or reconstructed) and have an unnatural appearance, a constant reminder to patients. New cellular technology in development may allow custom nipples, which replicate the patient’s original body parts, and are often surgically removed or altered.

Austin, Texas-based TeVido BioDevices intends to strengthen the healing process. The company proposes to bring a life-changing and very personal innovation to fruition: a 3D bio-printing technique, combined with advances in cellular technology, which will create custom nipple grafts that would match the size and shape of a woman's original nipple. A patient’s own tissue would be used in the process thereby reducing the risk and chances of complications and rejection. 

NotImpossibleNow.com was first introduced to TeVido BioDevices last summer at the SxSW V2V 2014. (Watch the interview with CEO Laura Bosworth here) Although the firm has received two major research grants from the NSI and NCI respectively, TeVido BioDevices' next step to realization is a must: acquiring patents, which will protect the idea, science and technology behind the life-changing skin grafts. Their current Indiegogo.com campaign (with a goal of $35,000) will help finance the costly international patent process. “It doesn’t seem exciting but that’s what we really need the money for,” explained Laura Bosworth, TeVido BioDevices’ CEO when reached at her Austin office. 

As with a property title on a newly purchased home that delineates ownership, patents play a critical role in protecting ideas and are necessary when attracting future venture capital investment and research grants, notes Bosworth. To bring the next wave of bio-engineering advances to patients via bio-printing will take both money and time. The science behind the printed skin cells originates with Dr. Thomas Boland, a professor at the University of Texas, El Paso, who used a standard inkjet printer to layer cells in an experiment. Bosworth (a board member at the university) learned about the technology and was intrigued by its commercial potential. The team talked to physicians to find a problem that could be solved through the biotechnology of layered cellular printing. 

“The general public assumes that you [a patient] survives cancer, gets implants and life is good,” Bosworth explains. “But the more I learned about breast cancer and breast reconstruction, I found these assumptions so far from the truth: it’s often many surgeries, procedures and challenges,” says Bosworth. Although bringing the concept to market is high risk admits Bosworth, “because of the lives we can change, it’s worth it,” she believes. 

And there are additional possible applications. “Our technology could be used in other areas,” Bosworth explains as TeVido BioDevices is also working with fat and skin cells, which could be used in reconstruction to fill out shapes of breasts damaged by surgeries or traumatic injuries. “The possibilities are endless but we’ll start with the nipple, which is a need that’s relatively small, “ she says, no pun intended. The potential for other reconstructive and cosmetic uses is there as well. 

At this point, the team has developed a prototype printer and the next step is clinical testing as well as putting a quality control system into place. “Anything we get helps to cover patent costs,” says Bosworth of the Indiegogo campaign, the first step in making the possibility of nipple graft implantation a reality. 

TeVido

Thomas Boland, Laura Bosworth, Scott Collins. Photo by Sam Ramsey.