Traditional Calais lace can help women after breast cancer

circle of lace material on a wood-effect background
Leavers lace from Calais is used is part of a 'natural' breast reconstruction for women after a mastectomy

Innovative technique allows new cells to grow and reconstruct ‘natural’ breast

Traditional lacemakers in Calais could help thousands of women cope after a mastectomy as their craft is being used to help create a new natural reconstructed breast that grows from their own cells.

Leavers lace is being used as a ‘scaffold’ matrix to allow the body to grow the woman’s own fat cells to recreate the breast shape inside a 3D-printed natural fibre mould.

After breast cancer and a mastectomy, women looking for breast reconstruction have previously chosen a silicone prosthesis that has a high risk of rejection and needs changed every few years or ‘lipofilling’, where fatty tissue is transplanted from elsewhere in the body in a series of surgeries.

A hand shows an oval-shaped lacy structure
The Leavers lace supports cells to allow them to grow

Now, the new Mat(t)isse technique developed by Lille CHRU and the Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Arts et Industries Textile could give a viable and natural alternative that is a combination of the two.

It was developed by plastic surgeon Pierre Guerreschi of CHU Lille and Ensiat biologists Philippe Marchetti and Pierre-Marie Danzé with the Up-Tex innovation cluster in Nord - Pas-de-Calais.

Textile engineer Julien Payen of Up-Tex at Roubaix said they approached him four years ago as they were looking for a “scaffolding to maintain fat” and a presentation in Austria had given the idea that cells could grow on lace as they died without this form of support.

Backed by €200,000 from Hauts-de-France region, the Mat(t)isse project was born and, working with Calais lacemaker created traditional Leavers lace from absorbable tissue plus a 3D-printed lacy mould from the same material.

Tests on animal cells showed the tissue grew to fill the mould and gave a new viable mass within six months that could grow almost as a natural breast would as the support tissue was absorbed.

Lille CHRU has patented the concept and it has just won the Théophile-Legrand textile innovation award and will undergo further tests to be turned into a full medical treatment, although not for several years.

Graphic showing stages of a breast construction
Breast reconstruction using Leavers lace and a 3D-printed support shield

Théophile-Legrand award coordinator Paul Schuler said it was “a world first, a revolution” that could change the lives of thousands of women affected by breast cancer.

Leavers lace was invented in 1808 by Englishman John Heathcote and developed and perfected by John Leavers. But a few years later, lacemakers from Nottingham moved to Calais to get away from British trade restrictions and started producing in 1820. Its three-dimensional structure sets it apart from other lace.

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