UP students develop plant-based prosthetic for breast cancer survivors


By Brontë H. Lacsamana, Reporter 

BRAKONG — a lightweight external breast prosthesis made of the aquatic plant bakong — was given the top prize in the Philippine leg of the 2022 James Dyson Award this September.  

Now progressing to the international stage, the team behind Brakong — composed of Jason N. Pechardo and Emmanuelle A. Pangilinan, students at the University of the Philippines (UP)–Diliman — is waiting for the announcement of the shortlist on Oct. 12 and of the winners on Nov. 16.   

The two students, who have collaborated on several industrial design projects, conceptualized Brakonglast year after realizing that breast cancer in the Philippines was alarmingly prevalent.  

They turned their attention to breast cancer survivors who have undergone mastectomy and hypothesized that indigenous materials with antimicrobial properties could make a good medical product.  

Produced through 3D scanning technology, the plant-based product can be customized to the user’s body measurements. Unlike silicone, cotton, polyester, or foam, which are some of the usual materials that make up breast prostheses, bakong is an accessible, low-cost, and naturally biodegradable raw material —addressing sustainability issues.   

“It’s the responsibility of all people who make products to think about the circularity of their designs … As long as we keep bringing these things to light, the economy will eventually cater for the development of sustainable products,” said Ms. Pangilinan.  

Mr. Pechardo added that bakong can be used to develop other medical materials and devices.  

“We’re hoping we could get additional funding for product research and development for the material of the breast form. Aside from the cash grant, we’re also hoping we can get more funds from investors, government, or research organizations,” he said.  

The extrusion machines at UP, which they use to develop the product, haven’t been adequate. Renting updated equipment can help them improve and iterate, since Brakong’s form is continuously evolving based on feedback from partners such as ICanServe Foundation, Inc., an early breast cancer detection advocacy group. 

“Further down the road we’ll need investors for commercialization, but for now we are still talking to different people to evolve the form of the product,” said Ms. Pangilinan. 

With the help of the UP College of Fine Arts’ Fablab and the Design Center of the Philippines under the Department of Trade and Industry, the two students hope to develop Brakong into a product beneficial to Filipino breast cancer survivors.  

Breast cancer is the most common cancer among Filipino women, based on data from the Philippine Statistics Authority.  

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