A new stem cell therapy developed by Melbourne scientists could help women regrow their breasts after cancer surgery.
Doctors at the Bernard O'Brien Institute of Microsurgery will start the trial for new technique called Neopec in coming months.
The new method uses a woman's own regenerative capacity to grow new fat tissue in her breasts.
The world-first trial will involve five women who have had tissue removed during surgery to remove cancer, and the first results could be reported by the end of the year.
Neopec involves implanting a breast-shaped biodegradable chamber into the chest before surgeons redirect blood vessels into the chamber with the patient's own fat cells.
A gel is inserted to help the cells multiply over four to six months, and the chamber dissolves when the new breast is fully formed.
According to lead researcher Wayne Morrison, after successfully trialling the procedure on pigs, he was about 50 per cent sure it would work in humans.
"If it works it will be great, but we can't be sure that it will yet," the Age quoted Professor Morrison as saying.
The new chief executive of the operation, Dr Peter Mountford, said if the trial was successful, by 2013 he would offer the procedure to women in Australia, Europe and south-east Asia who had had a partial mastectomy, defects of previous reconstructions or congenital deformities.
And the cosmetic market would come next.
"By 2015, Neopec will be able to provide full breast reconstruction and by 2020, in conjunction with a global partner, it will provide a natural alternative to women within the burgeoning breast augmentation market," said Mountford.
He said the procedure would be marketed at a premium price to implants currently on the market because it would be safer and more natural than the insertion of foreign materials.
Once perfected, it would also involve only one procedure and a shorter hospital stay than existing implantation methods.