Acellular Biologic Nipple-Areolar Complex Graft: In Vivo Murine and Nonhuman Primate Host Response Evaluation

Nicholas C. Pashos, David M. Graham, Brian J. Burkett, Ben O'Donnell, Rachel A. Sabol, Joshua Helm, Elizabeth C. Martin, Annie C. Bowles, William M. Heim, Vince C. Caronna, Kristin S. Miller, Brooke Grasperge, Scott Sullivan, Abigail E. Chaffin, Bruce A. Bunnell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


There are more than 3 million breast cancer survivors living in the United States of which a significant number have undergone mastectomy followed by breast and nipple-areolar complex (NAC) reconstruction. Current strategies for NAC reconstruction are dependent on nonliving or nonpermanent techniques, including tattooing, nipple prosthetics, or surgical nipple-like structures. Described herein is a tissue engineering approach demonstrating the feasibility of an allogeneic acellular graft for nipple reconstruction. Nonhuman primate (NHP)-derived NAC tissues were decellularized and their extracellular matrix components analyzed by both proteomic and histological analyses. Decellularized NHP nipple tissue showed the removal of intact cells and greatly diminished profiles for intracellular proteins, as compared with intact NHP nipple tissue. We further evaluated the biocompatibility of decellularized grafts and their potential to support host-mediated neovascularization against commercially available acellular dermal grafts by performing in vivo studies in a murine model. A follow-up NHP pilot study evaluated the host-mediated neovascularization and re-epithelialization of onlay engrafted decellularized NAC grafts. The murine model revealed greater neovascularization in the decellularized NAC than in the commercially available control grafts, with no observed biocompatibility issues. The in vivo NHP model confirmed that the decellularized NAC grafts encourage neovascularization as well as re-epithelialization. These results support the concept that a biologically derived acellular nipple graft is a feasible approach for nipple reconstruction, supporting neovascularization in the absence of adverse systemic responses. Currently, women in the United States most often undergo a mastectomy, followed by reconstruction, after being diagnosed with breast cancer. These breast cancer survivors are often left with nipple-areolar complex (NAC) reconstructions that are subsatisfactory, nonliving, and/or nonpermanent. Utilizing an acellular biologically derived whole NAC graft would allow these patients a living and permanent tissue engineering solution to nipple reconstruction.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)872-885
Number of pages14
JournalTissue Engineering - Part A
Issue number15-16
StatePublished - Aug 2020


  • acellular biological matrix
  • breast cancer
  • breast reconstruction
  • nipple reconstruction
  • nipple-areolar complex


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