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 National Cancer Institute/U.S. National Institutes of Health awarded $231,725 in February 2010 to Puskas, who has partnered with Dr. Steven Schmidt, Summa Health System, to further develop a biocompatible nanocomposite as an alternative to silicone rubber for breast prosthetics. Puskas, who serves as the research team’s principal investigator, is working with the proprietary polymer. The polymer is a new generation of the material used as the coating on the FDA-approved Taxus drug eluting stent. As a postdoctoral researcher, Puskas helped develop the first-generation polymer — poly(styrene-b-isobutylene-b-styrene) block copolymer — with Dr. Joseph Kennedy, UA distinguished professor of polymer science and chemistry. The new generation material and newly developed coatings ideally will improve implant function and healing. In addition to the NCI funding, the Austen BioInnovation Institute in Akron awarded $100,000 to support Puskas’ research. The project was one of eight included in the institute’s first round of research and development grants totaling $680,000. During the project’s two-year period, Puskas and her team plan to synthesize the nanocomposite at a lab-batch scale; evaluate its thermal, physical and mechanical properties; and establish its in vitro biocompatibility. “The ultimate goal of this research and development effort is to create prototype breast implants and prostheses for FDA approval,” Puskas says.