Local researcher continues quest to build better breast implant

By Cheryl Powell
Akron Beacon Journal medical writer
Published: August 10, 2013

University of Akron Dr. Judit Puskas with a piece of spun Polymer held in front of a traditional silicone implant. (Phil Masturzo/Akron Beacon Journal)

University of Akron Dr. Judit Puskas with a piece of spun Polymer held in front of a traditional silicone implant. (Phil Masturzo/Akron Beacon Journal)

For more than a decade, a researcher has been trying to build a better breast implant inside her Akron lab.
Judit E. Puskas, a materials scientist at the University of Akron College of Engineering, is going public with her attempts to secure at least $2 million to fund a critical step toward her goal of eventually bringing to market a breast implant that detects and cures cancer.
With the help of a local nonprofit foundation and other partners, Puskas is seeking grants, donations and other support to complete the necessary testing for U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval of a drug-emitting polymer coating for existing implants. The product could be used on breast implants already on the market to help minimize scarring and infection for patients, Puskas said. There are drugs that are shown to reduce the inflammatory response, she said. Right now, they are just given orally. What we do is release it locally so you don’t have to take it orally. It would be just on the implants.”

There are drugs that are shown to reduce the inflammatory response,” she said. “Right now, they are just given orally. What we do is we release it locally so you don’t have to take it orally. It would be just on the implants.”
Puskas’ long-term plan is to develop an entirely new generation of breast implants made from locally developed polymers with the drug-emitting capabilities. These “magic-bullet drugs” under development could provide targeted treatment at the cancer site, rather than forcing patients to undergo traditional chemotherapy treatments that cause unwanted side effects, she said. The drugs also could be used to help detect cancer cells. The Carole & Robin Reid Foundation kicked off the fundraising effort last week with an initial grant of $50,000 from an anonymous donor to support Puskas’ ongoing research. The Fairlawn couple, who are friends with Puskas, started the foundation last year to support local breast cancer research, particularly projects tied to Akron’s expertise in polymers. “We wanted to do something so we could distribute the funds to local organizations,” said Robin Reid, a retired electrical engineer. “We saw the need to do something locally for all the breast cancer research because the polymer industry is so heavily embedded here in Akron.”
For more than a dozen years, Puskas has been working to develop a breast implant made from an impermeable polymer, rather than the typical silicone material. Silicone can tear easily and is permeable, meaning the liquid or gel inside the implants can leak. Puskas has estimated as many as 50,000 of the 400,000 women who get breast implants annually require surgeries to repair, replace or remove the implants. About a quarter of the patients who choose to get breast implants are cancer patients. Her ongoing research also includes using the polymer material that can have embedded medications to fight infection, reduce inflammation, ease pain and detect and destroy cancer. Summa Health System Vice President of Clinical Research and Innovation Steven P. Schmidt has been a co-investigator throughout her research efforts. The material for the project is related to an earlier-generation polymer biomaterial developed at the University of Akron that is used for drug-eluting stents to help prevent arteries from getting clogged again with plaque.
Puskas’ research has received past support from the National Institutes of Health, Austin Chemical, the Austen BioInnovation Institute in Akron and other sources. Last year, it was among five projects from across the globe awarded $100,000 in seed money through the GE Healthymagination Cancer Challenge. Puskas also is teaming up with PolyInsight, which is applying for a $750,000 small business innovation grant from the National Science Foundation, to support development of a diagnostic drug for breast cancer. PolyInsight is a testing and service lab located in the Akron Global Business Accelerator that specializes in working with polymers. Puskas previously worked with another small business on a phase-one, $150,000 grant awarded from the National Science Foundation in 2012 to support the research effort.
The polymer-based drug being tested could potentially be used to target breast cancer cells, allowing for an easier and more accurate diagnosis, PolyInsight owner Harlan Wilk said. The researchers still are determining the best delivery route, possibly intravenously. The Cleveland Clinic’s imaging lab would provide MRI and other imaging technologies to measure the drug’s effectiveness in small animal studies, Puskas said.
For more information about the Carole & Robin Reid Foundation’s efforts to support projects by Puskas and other local researchers, visit the Carole & Robin Reid Foundation page on Facebook. Cheryl Powell can be reached at 330-996-3902 or cpowell@thebeaconjournal.com. Follow Powell on Twitter at twitter.com/abjcherylpowell.


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