Judit Puskas met with the leadership of GE Healthymagination in May to discuss the next steps in the innovative implant. From left are Robert Dunn, oncology strategy leader, GE; Carrie Eglinton Manner, CEO of Clarient, GE Healthcare; Jo Dangel, director of development, The University of Akron; Sam Ponticelli, chairman and CEO, Austin Chemical Company; Pascale Witz, president and CEO Medical Diagnostics, GE Healthcare; Puskas, who is professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering at UA; and Michael Barber, VP Molecular Imaging, Healthcare Systems, GE Healthcare.
Young researcher fills big role on breast implant research team
High school student John Freiss was an integral member of Judit Puskas’ breast implant research team
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"I’d like to dedicate this award to my late grandmother, Maria Kis.
"I was 18 when my single mother died. My grandmother, barely surviving on her widower’s pension, went back to work at age 66 and supported me through university. She did 12-hour shifts with ulcerated legs and in constant pain she ignored. Just after my graduation she was hit by cervical cancer that was not treated properly.
"Witnessing her suffering and passing was the single most painful experience of my life. I would not be here without her.
"I will use part of the award to set up a scholarship in her memory."
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 as one of the most exciting and innovative ideas in the battle against breast cancer.
Launched September 15, 2011, General Electric’s “Healthymagination Challenge” seeks to identify and bring to market ideas that advance breast cancer diagnostics. The competition 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 further develop their ideas. The other award winners include research teams at the Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center (Nashville); the Moffitt Cancer Center (Tampa); and a partnership between the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center (Seattle) and the Uganda Cancer Institute (Kampala).
“To be included among the most prestigious cancer researchers in the world is truly humbling,” said Puskas, professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering. “It is never easy to bring a discovery from the bench to the bedside. It takes years of work and millions in funding support. This award and recognition will help speed the development and manufacture of a product that can help millions of women recover from breast cancer.”
Since joining the faculty at The University of Akron in 2004, Puskas has helped develop polymer-based materials and coatings for use in medical devices and other industries.
She received funding from the National Cancer Institute/National Institutes of Health in 2010 to further develop the technology to create a safer breast implant, one that is less likely to leak silicone. This polymer material also reduces the risk of inflammation in the tissue surrounding the implant, which often leads to painful tissue contraction and rupture of the implant.
The Illinois-based Austin Venture Partners, LLC, owns the patent to the polymer developed by Puskas. She has been collaborating for seven years with Steven P. Schmidt, Ph.D., Summa Health System in Akron, in the clinical application for the invention. Puskas has led her team at The University of Akron from a materials development perspective while Schmidt has led his team at Summa from a biocompatibility and medical application perspective. “This has been a winning combination of talents,” said Schmidt.
Even more intriguing to cancer researchers is the possibility of embedding drugs in the polymer coating to fight infection and inflammation, and target and destroy cancer cells. Puskas and her team at The University of Akron developed a process by which specific drugs can be synthesized and embedded in the polymer material and released in the body after a mastectomy or reconstruction.
For example, it would be possible to coat a tissue-expander or a breast implant with a pharmaceutical agent that can detect the presence of and selectively destroy stray cancer cells. The University of Akron holds the patent application for this process. “The ability to locally target drug delivery has the potential to dramatically improve the course of treatment for breast cancer patients,” said Schmidt.
In announcing the winners, Beth Comstock, GE senior vice president and chief marketing officer, said, “We launched the Challenge as a call to action for oncology researchers and healthcare innovators around the world to accelerate innovation and help stop this deadly disease. The Challenge has shown us that there are a remarkable number of breakthrough ideas out there that will help doctors detect breast cancer faster and give more accurate diagnosis with targeted and effective treatment.”
The UA research was selected as a winner in the GE challenge by an independent judging panel that included venture capital partners, GE executives, and several leading health-care professionals.