To be in the company of Chris Calhoun is to encounter breasts, and encounter the damn things anytime, anywhere—including over a plate of spaghetti in a bustling Manhattan restaurant.
On this spring afternoon, the 44-year-old CEO of San Diego-based biotech company Cytori Therapeutics pulls out his laptop, launches a PowerPoint presentation, and there they are: conical and cantaloupy, As through Ds, beige and pink and taupe and tan, more breasts than you might see in a women’s locker room, never mind in the middle of a lunch table.
A passing waiter does a double take at this lively slide show, but Calhoun is oblivious. He’s talking excitedly about how these women’s bodies led him and his team of scientists to a discovery in tissue engineering, a process that could well be one of the most momentous medical advances of the 21st century: the use of stem cells—specifically stem-cell-enriched adipose (fat) tissue—to enhance, heal, and rebuild injured or damaged organs.
A few taps on his laptop reveal the unsettling “before” images of these seemingly normal breasts. There: a breast with a divot the size of a plum taken out of the bottom from a lumpectomy. There: a chest as flat as a floor mat from a double mastectomy. There: one so misshapen after a partial mastectomy, it’s possible to determine what it actually is only because of its healthy companion. “We realized that for these women there was a huge unmet need for a disruptive change in technology,” Calhoun says of the work that has consumed his team of researchers and surgeons for the past eight years. “It’s the first practical cell therapy.” He pauses. “And it’s breasts.” Which means cancer victims with breasts mutilated by surgery—as well [...]