Breast implant with nano 'bed-of-nails' deters cancer cells

Brown University biomedical scientists have created an implant that appears to deter breast cancer cell regrowth. Made from a common polymer, the implant is the first to be modified at the nanoscale.

A "bed-of-nails" inside the surface of the implant prevents cancerous cells from growing. Credit: Webster Lab/Brown University

One in eight women in the United States will develop breast cancer, and most will have no choice but to face age-old chemotherapy drugs, surgery and breast reconstruction. As many as one-fifth of those women will suffer relapse.

To help drive down the rate of relapse, researchers at Brown University have created a breast implant with a "bed-of-nails" surface at the nanoscale that deters cancer cells from dwelling and thriving.

The implant, made from a common federally approved polymer, has a nanoscale surface that impedes cancerous cells from gathering the nutrients they need to thrive because of the lack of blood-vessel architecture that they depend on. The implant attracts healthy breast cell formation instead.

"We've created an [implant] surface with features that can at least decrease [cancerous] cell functions without having to use chemotherapeutics, radiation, or other processes to kill cancer cells," said Thomas Webster, associate professor of engineering. "It's a surface that's hospitable to healthy breast cells and less so for cancerous breast cells."

To create the implant, Webster and his team built a cast on a glass plate using 23-nanometer-diameter polystyrene beads and polylactic-co-glycolic acid (PLGA), a biodegradable polymer approved by the FDA and used widely in clinical settings, such as stitches. The result was an implant surface covered with adjoining, 23-nanometer-high pimples. For comparison, Webster and his lab partner also created surfaces with 300-nanometer and 400-nanometer peaks; they found that the 23-nanometer surface worked best at deterring breast cancer cells.

"I would guess that surface peaks less than 23 nanometers would be even better,” Webster added, although polystyrene beads with such dimensions don’t yet exist. "The more you can push up that cancerous cell, the more you keep it from interacting with the surface."

Next, the researchers will look closely at why the nano-modified surfaces deter malignant breast cells. They will manipulate the surface features to yield greater results, and experiment with alternative materials.

The test results are published in Nanotechnology.

Source: Brown University