‘Tattoo’ could detect cancer early

The inability to detect many cancers until the advanced stages of the disease is one of the reasons it is such a big killer in Australia.

To address this problem, researchers from Switzerland are developing an implant that could alert those that have it to the presence of cancer early on.

The implant is essentially a ‘smart tattoo’ that changes colour when there are changes to the body’s interstitial fluid, the fluid that surrounds the body’s tissue cells.

Professor Martin Fussenegger, alongside a team of researchers at the Department of Biosystems Science and Engineering at ETH Zürich in Switzerland, has developed the prototype of a ‘tattoo’ to detect the possible presence of cancerous cells early on.

“Early detection increases the chance of survival significantly,” explains Prof. Fussenegger.

“For example, if breast cancer is detected early, the chance of recovery is 98 per cent; however, if the tumour is diagnosed too late, only one in four women has a good chance of recovery.”

“Nowadays,” he continues, “people generally go to the doctor only when the tumour begins to cause problems. Unfortunately, by that point it is often too late.”

Prof. Fussenegger believes that this situation might, in the future, be significantly improved by the specialised skin implant that they devised – which they call a biomedical tattoo.

Their biomedical tattoo is set to recognise four of the most widespread types of cancer: breast cancer, lung cancer, prostate cancer and colon cancer.

The researchers have conducted a feasibility study, in which they tested the efficacy and accuracy of their prototype on mice and on pig skin. So far, the results have been promising.

How it works
At the earliest stages of cancer development, blood levels of calcium become super-elevated in a phenomenon known as hypercalcemia.

Studies have reported that 30 per cent of individuals diagnosed with a form of cancer have an elevated calcium concentration in their systems.

The implant consists of a series of genetic components that are incorporated into body cells; once inserted under the skin, this implant is then able to monitor blood calcium levels.

Should these levels spike abnormally, melanin – which is the body’s natural pigment – would then ‘flood’ the genetically modified cells, giving them the appearance of a brown mole. Thus, the wearer would be alerted to any telling signs of cancer.

“An implant carrier should then see a doctor for further evaluation after the mole appears,” Prof. Fussenegger says.

The implant is, as yet, only an early prototype, and much more research is needed before it can be put to the test on humans.

Would you consider getting a tattoo if it would help you detect cancer early?

Health disclaimer: This article contains general information about health issues and is not advice. For health advice, consult your medical practitioner.

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Written by Ben

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