A devastating disease that affects millions of women around the world, breast cancer impacts not only physical health, but also the self-esteem and sense of identity of survivors. Arianna Pezzano, a graduate of Central Saint Martins college of the University of the Arts London, dedicated her Master’s work to finding a tangible solution for breast cancer patients to ‘reclaim their wholeness and confidence’. Her creation, BioProsthesis, uses human hair to create prosthetic nipples for patients who have undergone a mastectomy or lumpectomy.
To create a nipple that accurately simulates the patient’s own, the process starts with Pezzano taking a cast of the patient's breast and nipple to create an aluminium mould, which is placed in an electrospinning machine. A chemical process is then applied to hair lost by patients during chemotherapy to extract keratin, a fibrous protein, which is fed into the electrospinning machine to create the lightweight prosthetic nipple. Finally, the nipple is painted in a colour matching the patient’s own skin.
‘This process enables the patient to regain a sense of wholeness, with the keratin used in the prosthesis serving as a replacement for the loss of their breast, symbolically reuniting the [lost] hair with the body in the form of a prosthesis, and facilitating the acceptance process and psychological healing,’ writes Pezzano in her project thesis.
For Pezzano, the use of keratin signifies a different perspective on biomaterials, focusing on what the human body itself can produce and avoiding the exploitation of other living organisms. She hopes that the technology behind BioProsthesis will eventually become medically licensed for use in surgical attachment, as the bio-identical keratin prosthetic has a reduced chance of rejection by the body.
Photographs: Arianna Pezzano.