Sunday, January 4, 1998 Published at 08:33 GMT
Natural breast implants could replace silicone
The treatment could offer a natural alternative to silicone implants
American scientists have developed a technique for growing nipples out of cells taken from another part of a woman's body.
The team leader, Professor David Mooney, told the BBC they may be ready to perform nipple transplants this year.
The researchers in Boston, Massachusetts, said within five years they hope to be able to grow fully functional breasts.
Their work could revolutionise both treatments for women who have suffered breast cancer and the cosmetic breast augmentation industry.
Not only are the scientists optimistic about being able to engineer breast, they expect to recreate the process of lactation, which allows the breast to produce milk.
The commercially-funded project is run by Reprogenesis in association with a number of university research groups.
"Our initial intention is to provide an option for breast cancer patients, but the method could be used for cosmetic reconstructions and it has generated a lot of interest," he said.
Eventually, the technique could replace silicone implants, which have potentially dangerous side-effects.
The researchers plan to hold the first trials where the engineered nipples are transplanted on to women's breasts within the year.
The nipples are grown over around two weeks from fat and blood vessel cells taken from the upper leg.
Polymer plastic is used to mould the cells but once the nipple has formed it disappears leaving only human tissue with no danger of rejection when transplanted.