Prototype ‘Artificial Mole’ Implant Can Warn Doctors of Early Cancer


Scientists from Switzerland have created a skin implant which is still in experimental stage. The implant will help doctors find early signs of cancers in patients. It will darken like a mole when it detects small changes in the body that warn the incipient development of cancer.

It is called a ‘biomedical tattoo’ by the researchers and, so far, it has been tested on lab animals. The implant will last about a year and can recognize four types of cancer – breast, colon, lung and prostate cancer.

What Makes The ‘Biomedical Tattoo’ React?

Whenever a tumor starts developing, the level of calcium in blood rises. Researchers explain that this is when the tattoo reacts and it can detect almost 40% of cancers, theoretically speaking. The lead author of the study and Professor at the Department of Biosystems Science and Engineering at ETH Zurich, Martin Fussenegger explains how the implant works:

“The biomedical tattoo detects all hypercalcemic cancers at a very early, asymptomatic stage. If blood calcium levels remain high over longer periods of time, the calcium sensor in the biomedical tattoo cells produces an enzyme, tyrosinase, which converts the amino acid into the black skin pigment, melanin.”

When the person that wears the implant notices it got darker, they should consult a doctor. This way, they can determine what to do next, said Fussenegger. The main focus of their study is to find a way of detecting cancers in early stages, before tumors start causing problems.

Trials on Mice Have Been Performed

The researchers have tested the implant on mice that had cancerous tumors. Some of the tumors cause hypercalcemia, while others don’t affect the calcium level in blood. They used the implant in both cases and after 38 days, only hypercalcemic mice had the tattoos darken on their skin. Other than seeing the tattoo darken, the mice showed no symptoms of illness.

Clinical trials on people haven’t started yet. Fussenegger said that they need to do more research to advance with the tattoo implant. After they get funding, it might take a decade to finish their project.

You can find the paper that describes the prototype of the implant in the journal Science Translational Medicine.


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