Young design engineers from UP create plant-based prosthetic for breast cancer survivors

They are hailed as this year’s national James Dyson Award champion

Emmanuelle Pangilinan and Jason Pechardo

Studies have shown that the Philippines has the highest prevalence of breast cancer in Asia, and the ninth highest in the world. In fact, in 2020 alone, there were 86,484 new cases of breast cancer among women in the Philippines, and the removal of the breast by mastectomy has proven to cause psychological impact on patients, including emotional distress, social inhibition, and reduced self-esteem.

This situation is what inspired design engineers Emmanuelle Pangilinan and Jason Pechardo from the University of the Philippines—Diliman to set out and to solve this problem with their invention—Brakong, earning them the top prize in the Philippine leg of this year’s James Dyson Award. 

Brakong is a lightweight external breast prosthesis made from an aquatic plant called ‘bakong’ which grows perennially in the northern region of the Philippines. The plant’s antimicrobial properties ensure that the prosthesis stays clean in the chest area. With the use of 3D scanning technology, Brakong can be customized to the breast cancer’s body measurements.

Hearing stories from breast cancer patients spurred Emmanuelle and Jason to do more research and explore product development opportunities. The fact that bakong, an aquatic plant native to the Philippines, has been an ignored resource for years served as an added inspiration. The year-long availability and affordability of the raw materials also motivated the two engineers to consider design circularity, given that Brakong is an invention that can be recycled infinitely.

The duo is also proud that since their project is made from natural material produced by the farmers from Cagayan Valley, creating brakong is sustainable and affordable. 

“Given that we already invested in the machine and we used very minimal material, it only costs P200,” Emmanuel tells Manila Bulletin Lifestyle. 

Back in 2020, Emmanuelle also won the James Dyson Award National Runner-up with her team’s project, Box Office—a complete workstation concept for those who need the similar work environment of an office cubicle at home. The team has plans to take the multi-functional, collapsible and portable design forward for further development.

Winning the national leg of the James Dyson Award will inject over P330,000 into the Brakong project which the team will use for further product development. 

Currently, they are in coordination with the Design Centre of the Philippines, ICanServe foundation, and several medical advisers to gather user feedback and guide their approach for future product upgrades.

“Breast cancer is the most common cancer globally. The Philippines has the highest incidence of this cancer in Asia. The people we talked to stated they felt diminished as a woman and abnormal. Hearing and reading about their personal stories is what struck us to advance our understanding and do more research,” they say. “We addressed the problem with circularity in mind, and developed Brakong, made from bakong.”

Following the ideation of the design in August 2021, it took them three months to fully shape the first Brakong prototype. The material development stage proved to be challenging given that there is little to no preceding studies focused on bakong. 

Recurring COVID-19 surges and lockdowns across the Philippines also served as challenges in developing physical prototypes. The Brakong project will progress to the international stage of the James Dyson Award. The international shortlist will be announced on Oct. 12, 2022  and the international winners on Nov.16, 2022.

Emmanuelle and Jason are now working on the next iteration for Brakong and are looking to pursue commercialization . Beyond their Brakong invention, the young engineers are hoping to see a movement towards circular design.