Development of an In Vitro Modular Tissue Test System for Breast Tissue Engineering and Its Exploration in Engineering Education and Science Policy

Sarah Corinne Rowlinson, Clemson University


The main goal of this project was to engage in the full life-cycle of scientific inquiry. This meant expanding on the “Benchtop-to-Bedside” paradigm commonly discussed in Biomedical Engineering, and including the study of Business, Background (Education), and Bureaucracy as they relate to the benchtop research. Breast cancer research aims to develop a better understanding of the underlying mechanisms of disease progression and to generate approaches to improve early detection, monitoring, and treatment of breast cancer. With the emergence of personalized medicine to combat diseases that are individualized in nature, our methods of elucidating the mechanisms of disease must similarly take a personalized, individualized approach. Thus, the long-term objective of the present research is to develop modular breast tissue models to (1) further our understanding of individual breast cancer tumors and (2) monitor and develop customized treatment plans, thus contributing to breast tissue and breast cancer research. A novel fabrication method was developed to create a three-dimensional (3D) breast tissue in vitro test system using biomaterial and tissue engineering concepts. Ultimately, this 3D tissue test system could be translated for use in cancer biology and other adjacent fields of cancer research. With an engineering design perspective in mind, critical design parameters and their bounds were identified and tested. These critical design parameters, including incorporating multiple cell types and hydrogel mechanical characteristics, lead to the ability to incorporate heterogeneity in the 3D model and replicate key aspects of the mammary microenvironment. Breast cancer research and the novel fabrication method discussed in this project were also used as a framework to study Business, Background, and Bureaucracy. We developed a business model to show the feasibility of translating an idea to a commercialized product. The process of benchtop research discovery and product analysis was used to generate research questions related to Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics education and entrepreneurship education practices. Finally, the breast cancer was observed through the lens of policy studies and science and technology studies in order to understand the interaction between breast cancer researchers, government, and patients. By including components of benchtop research, business practice, education, and policy, we initiated a discussion on broader impacts in scientific inquiry. This initiative broadened the intellectual merit of the project and introduced ideas related to breast cancer research in other related fields of research, thereby generating additional in-depth research opportunities and advancements in the field of breast cancer research.