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Health and Medicine

Akron researcher earns GE innovation award
Polymer chemist Judit Puskas is one of five innovators nationwide to be recognized for breast cancer research

Reporter / Host
Jeff St. Clair
Judit Puskas teaches polymer science at the University of Akron. Her work in developing a new material for breast implants earned recognition from GE's "healthymagination Cancer Challenge".
Courtesy of Jeff St.Clair
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Each year, more than 80,000 women in the U.S. undergo breast reconstruction following cancer surgery.  Most receive silicone implants, despite silcone’s checkered safety record.  Now a polymer scientist in Akron has developed a material that could replace silicone.  The new implants may also help prevent cancer from returning. 

WKSU’s Jeff St.Clair reports, on Tuesday the project received a coveted GE innovation award.


Next generation breast implant

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University of Akron polymer scientist Judit Puskas and her team are developing what could be the next generation implant for women considering reconstructive surgery following a mastectomy.  Like silicone, the polymer is readily accepted by the body.  

“This material happens to be biocompatible but we don’t really know why.”

But what makes a material biocompatible?  Puskas says no one can answer that, but biocompatibility is behind the long-term success of silicone despite it's drawbacks.

Toward a better breast implant 

Silcone breast implants were invented in the 1960’s and were used by millions of women for both enhancement and breast reconstruction…that is until in the 1980’s questions of safety emerged.  Early implants leaked, burst, or caused other health problems.  In 1992 they were banned in the U.S. and only reintroduced for general use in 2006.

In the year 2000, Puskas found herself listening to NPR - “and I learned from this radio program that even after the ban the demand for silicone implants increased six-fold.”

As a polymer chemist, she knew there had to be other choices.   

“And I felt compelled to start working on this project to help women, because right now the only alternative is silicone.”

A plastic alternative to silicone rubber 

She came up with a soft plastic that’s biocompatible like silicone, but won’t tear or leak.  And silicone rubber, like a rubber tire, requires a curing step. Her thermo-plastic material skips that step which allows it to hold therapeutic drugs.  In her lab she mixes anti-cancer drugs in with the polymer, which, when implanted, can target cancer cells that surgery may have missed.

“We are trying to integrate these two aspects -  the one is the reconstruction and the other one is the cancer diagnosis and treatment.”

Puskas is working with Steven Schmidt, Summa’s vice president of research, in determining how the new implant will deliver the drugs once inside the body.  Schmidt says for a woman recovering from breast cancer surgery targeted drugs from an implant would have fewer side-effects  than traditional chemotherapy because they’re released where they’re needed.

“The local delivery of drugs is kind of the holy grail in a lot of therapies.”

Schmidt cautions there’s still a lot of testing to be done, but...

“IF the technology works it would be an approach that would be welcomed by clinicians.”

More money needed for research 

Puskas and her team at the University of Akron are one of five recipients nationwide of the GE innovation award for breast cancer research.  The award includes $100,000 dollars in seed money, and national recognition she hopes will attract other funders, and spur further research.

 “I’m a woman and I want to start with this one because I want to help other women, but the same concept can be used for any kind of cancer.”

The GE innovation award also includes mentoring to bring promising initiatives to market. 

Related Links & Resources
Find other winners here: GE's

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