Student Co-Publishes Article on Surgery she Underwent

FAU senior Elizabeth Hopkins found her road to research as a surgery patient.


FAU senior, Elizabeth Hopkins, poses with Dr. Hilton Becker, affiliate professor at FAU’s Charles E. Schmidt College of Medicine and Boca Raton plastic and reconstructive surgeon. | Photo provided by Elizabeth Hopkins

Bibi Patel, Contributing Writer

Typically, students get their start in the classroom. But one student  started her undergraduate research on the operating table.

Elizabeth Hopkins, a senior studying anthropology and neuroscience and behavior, elected to have a double mastectomy with reconstruction after discovering that she was at an increased risk for breast cancer, due to a BRCA2 gene mutation.   

Normally, the BRCA2 gene suppresses tumors and repairs damaged DNA; however mutations in the gene can lead to higher risk for the cancer, according to Genetics Home Reference site, run by the National Institute of Health.

Hopkins underwent the procedure with Dr. Hilton Becker, an affiliate professor in FAU’s Charles E. Schmidt College of Medicine and reconstructive surgeon in Boca Raton, and worked to be published in Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery Journal.

Dr. Becker’s procedure involves placing the implant and an acellular dermal graft—made from human skin tissue above the pectoral muscle. This graft acts as additional support to the implant, to prevent the common issue of deformity seen in breast removal followed by reconstruction.

Dr. Becker describes this deformity as “the abnormal movement of the breast that is seen when an implant is placed beneath the muscle.

When the patient contracts the muscle, abnormal movement results.” This movement can be seen in this video.

“This technique [is] priceless and valuable to women everywhere considering mastectomy,” Hopkins said.

“Like [Becker’s other patients], I have lost my glandular breast tissue, which is no easy decision to make and it was a blessing in disguise which led me to this research,” Hopkins explained in an email.

“I have spoken with women who have poor self-esteem, are self-conscious, cannot look in the mirror or go on dates because of the way their breasts look due to old techniques,” she said.

Dr. Becker described Hopkins as an “enthusiastic medical student.” He mentioned that he encourages all his students to get into a research mindset by asking questions and not accepting things blindly.

He wants his students to undertake little projects, like Hopkins being involved with following 37 patients who went through the same procedure.

Becker used Hopkins to show how important undergraduate research is.

He said her interest in the research led them to gathering data and having his work published.

“I encourage every undergraduate or graduate to pursue their dreams and start with research, it may be the golden ticket to the places they are trying to go,” Hopkins said in an email. “It certainly opened up a new realm for me and for that I am grateful, especially to Dr. Becker.”  

Bibi Patel is a Contributing Writer for the University Press. If you would like to contact her regarding this or other articles, email her at [email protected].