A research team from the University of Akron is one of five national recipients of a $100,000 grant from General Electric, which last fall launched a program to identify and bring to market innovations created to diagnose and treat breast cancer.
The team’s idea — a polymer covering the outside of a breast implant or tissue expander that is much less likely to leak — bested more than 500 ideas submitted from more than 40 countries to the GE Healthymagination Cancer Challenge, the company announced Tuesday.
Led by Judit Puskas, the materials scientist who has been researching the idea for more than a decade, the UA team envisions transforming breast implants and tissue expanders (empty balloon-like devices that are filled with saline to gradually stretch the skin and muscle in preparation for a breast implant) to be more than just reconstructive surgery devices. The polymer covering theoretically also would be able to reduce the risk of inflammation in surrounding tissue and contain drugs to help detect and kill cancer cells.
Puskas, professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering at UA, has developed a way of taking an oral or intravenous medication currently available to patients and embed it into the first layer of coating of the polymer, at lower concentrations that reduce side effects.
The development of a safer breast implant that could actually help detect and destroy cancer cells is the focus of research at The University of Akron that won international recognition today as one of the most exciting and innovative ideas in the battle against breast cancer.
Launched last fall, the “GE Healthymagination Cancer Challenge” generated more than 500 ideas from 40 countries and more than 200 academic institutions and researchers.
The University of Akron research team, led by materials scientist Judit E. Puskas, Ph.D, in the College of Engineering, was among five innovation award winners selected to receive $100,000 in “seed money” to further develop their ideas.
University of Akron professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering, Judit Puskas, was named the Austin Chemical Company, Inc. Chair holder in the UA College of Engineering. Through a gift to the University’s College of Engineering, Illinois-based Austin Chemical Co., founded in 1976, is funding the position dedicated to education and research.
Puskas’ selection as chair was based on her contributions to research and education and on generating interest among students to study chemical engineering.
“Dr. Puskas’ commitment to recruiting top-quality chemical engineering students and preparing them to support industry needs not only enhances a critical talent pipeline, but also contributes significantly to the College of Engineering’s reputation for academic excellence,” says Dr. George K. Haritos, dean of the UA College of Engineering.
There is often no better rallying cry for scientific inquiry than the expectation that a thing can’t be done. Judit Puskas learned this firsthand when she left her native Hungary and arrived at the University of Akron to study polymer synthesis as a postdoctoral associate with Joseph Kennedy. The lab was focused on rubber chemistry, in particular on developing a living carbocationic polymerization—marrying unstable carbocationic intermediates with the stable ‘living’ technique in which polymer termination does not occur. Puskas recalls, “At the time, people said that this was not possible. It was theoretically impossible.” Yet she and her colleagues succeeded, and a connection forged at a subsequent conference led first to the demonstration that one of their newly created polymers had outstanding properties for biomaterials applications and then to a career devoted to biologically inspired and biologically derived polymers.
For the past decade, Dr. Judit E. Puskas, professor of polymer science at The University of Akron, has worked to develop a new and innovative breast prosthesis safer for implant patients than the current silicone variety.
With one in eight American women diagnosed with breast cancer each year — 70,000 of whom undergo mastectomies followed by breast reconstruction — Puskas says she felt driven and obligated to use her expertise as a polymer scientist to develop a superior prosthetic breast, one that would not force women back to the operating room for repeat surgeries in years following their initial breast reconstructions. The documented 30 percent failure rate of the mainstay silicone gel implant due to ruptures, leakage and capsular contracture stunned Puskas and provoked her to come up with a solution. Her development — a soft and transparent thermoplastic elastomer breast implant with an antimicrobial coating to prevent infections — has received strong support from the research community in recent months.