Chemistry Related
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Dr. Ioannis Kakadiaris (r)
Department of Computer Science
photo by Jerome Crowder
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by Noelle Heinze
In February 1999, 56-year-old Sarah,* a senior client associate at a Houston investment firm, had a routine screening mammogram that revealed a “suspicious spot” on the x-ray of her right breast. With no family history of breast cancer, Sarah says she was probably in denial when she heard this news. “I just didn’t think it would turn out to be cancer.”
Further tests confirmed a diagnosis of Stage I breast cancer, and she was advised by her doctors to undergo a lumpectomy, a surgical procedure to remove the tumor from her breast. “My doctors were 95% sure I didn’t need to have a mastectomy, but I signed a consent form allowing them to do one if more cancer was found during surgery,” she says. “Unfortunately, they found a second lump.”
Sarah underwent chemotherapy for the next eight months, was put on an experimental drug for the next five years, and underwent quarterly, then biannual, and now annual screenings.  However, Sarah has a constant reminder of the disease. “I chose not to have breast reconstruction surgery, so I wear a prosthesis during the day, but when I take a shower or go to sleep at night, I’m very aware of it.  It’s something you never really get used to—not having a breast.”
“Sometimes, I think maybe I should have reconstructive surgery,” she says. “I’m taking my time to investigate it. I want to make sure I have the best possible surgeon if I do it, because it’s major surgery, and I’m a bit wary about it. The first time I ever had surgery in my life was when I had the mastectomy.”
Breast cancer is the second most frequent cancer diagnosis among American women today, after skin cancer, and post-mastectomy breast reconstruction surgery is the third most frequently performed reconstructive procedure.
Currently, there are no methods to predict the aesthetic outcome of this type of surgery. 
While there are several methods for breast reconstruction, one method involves using tissue taken from a patient’s abdomen, which requires a surgeon to guess the amount of tissue and skin to use.
 “What amount of donor tissue will yield a desired breast shape? How much tension will be generated in the skin? Is there enough tissue to recreate a breast that will meet a patient’s expectation?” asks Associate Professor of Computer Science Ioannis Kakadiaris, who is working on collaborative research with surgeons in the Texas Medical Center.
Kakadiaris and his collaborators are developing a biomechanically accurate 3-D breast model to predict shape changes due to various surgical reconstruction procedures. This technology will aid both surgeons and patients in visualizing the predicted outcome of breast reconstruction surgery.
“We are very excited about this research,” says Kakadiaris. “Our interdisciplinary team is working to improve the quality of life for individuals recovering from post-mastectomy reconstruction operations, by reducing surgical time and eliminating patients’ fears of a disfiguring operation.”
Kakadiaris’ collaborators are Michael J. Miller, MD, and Charles W. Patrick, Jr., PhD, from The University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, and K. Ravi-Chandar, PhD, from The University of Texas at Austin.
The team is currently working on a second-generation prototype; a project they have aptly named CARES (Computer-Assisted Breast REconstructive Surgery).
For more information about this research, please visit http://www.cbl.uh.edu/CARES.
*Sarah’s real name has not been used to protect her privacy.
© University of Houston 2006