Women undergoing lumpectomies to remove tumors or breast cancer are often faced with two options: spend months filling the void with a series of fat injections, which then have the potential to be reabsorbed into the body; or do nothing, which can leave breasts disfigured and asymmetrical.
Now an Austin entrepreneur, in partnership with a University of Texas at El Paso researcher, seeks to bring a third option to the table if her biotech startup can get the tens of millions of dollars it will need for research and development.
Laura Bosworth-Bucher is president and co-founder of TeVido BioDevices LLC, which is using 3-D printing technology to develop a process to fabricate women’s breast tissue using the patient’s fat cells.
The method uses a modified HP Deskjet 340 inkjet printer, which, according to TeVido’s 2013 executive summary report, “shoots out proteins instead of ink and captures tissue on specialized gel instead of paper.” With bioprinting, live cells taken from a patient’s biopsy are distributed directly onto collagen or hydrogen gels in 3-D formations, such as living breast tissue.
TeVido’s patent-pending technology was invented by Thomas Boland, chief science officer and co-founder of TeVido, and director of biomedical engineering at UTEP.
Because a woman’s fat cells would be used to create the implant by distributing fat around bioprinted capillaries, rejection rates for bioprinted tissues are projected to be low.
“We’ll be able to keep ours alive, and it will re-graft,” Bosworth-Bucher said. “It’s not necessarily an implant or something that they can come in and take out later.”
The technology has a variety of applications. When Bosworth-Bucher and Boland initially teamed in June 2009, they looked into using it to treat chronic wounds such as diabetic ulcers and severe burns. When researching market size, however, Bosworth-Bucher concluded there was an “unmet need” in bioprinting breast tissue. About 200,000 cases of breast cancer are diagnosed yearly in the U.S., with 50 to 60 percent of patients choosing to undergo lumpectomies as part of their treatment, Tevido reported on their 2013 executive summary report.
“The more I learned about the market opportunities and what were the gaps in the market, the more I saw the possibility to have a big impact,” Bosworth-Bucher said.
After six to nine months of due diligence, Bosworth-Bucher made the TeVido partnership with Boland official by signing a contract to license the patents exclusively from UTEP. Since then, they have brought on a third partner — Scott Collins, who has a doctorate in biomedical engineering from the University of Texas at Austin — as chief technology officer and vice president of product development, and one full-time staff scientist, Maria Yanez.
The field of bioprinting is booming, with scientists at Cornell University bioprinting human ears, and companies like San Diego-based Organovo Inc. experimenting with bioprinted liver tissue prototypes.
“The vision is that 50 years from now, you won’t have to wait for someone to die to get a kidney. They’ll come in and take a biopsy of your kidney and then 3-D print a kidney replacement for you,” Bosworth-Bucher said.
TeVido still faces many challenges before bringing bioprinted breast tissue to market. Keeping the shape intact, determining the ideal density of capillaries to maintain blood flow to all the cells, and preventing cells from dying before implantation are all key concerns that the company is exploring in a series of National Science Foundation-funded laboratory tests on mice.
“If we got the funding at the rate that we need it, we’re probably going to need about $40 million dollars in funding for optimizing, pre-clinical trials, setting up quality systems and human trials. Ideally, it would be about seven years” before TeVido’s bioprinted breast tissues hit the market, Bosworth-Bucher said.
Bosworth-Bucher expects $10 million to $15 million to come in grants from a variety of sources such as the National Institute of Health, the Department of Defense’s breast cancer research program, the Texas Emerging Technology Fund and the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas. She plans to seek the rest in private capital from venture capitalists and potential partners.
So far, the National Science Foundation has awarded TeVido a $150,000 Phase I Small Business Innovation Research grant and $60,000 from the Loya Proof of Concept fund. The company is seeking a Phase II NSF grant for $750,000.
If all goes well, TeVido plans to build several centralized, high-quality manufacturing facilities to produce the breast tissue, and there’s talk of branching out into nipple reconstruction — a problem currently being “solved” with nipple areola tattoos that can fade over time — and breast augmentation using a patient’s own cells.
“The idea that we could automate it in a way that each hospital would be able to have [bioprinting on site] is intriguing. … But we think in the first phases, it probably won’t be there yet,” Bosworth-Bucher said.