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Implant gives early cancer warning by growing an artificial mole on your skin

Date: 23.4.2018 

The earlier cancer is detected, the better the outlook for the patient. Unfortunately, cancer is a crafty foe and does a good job of hiding its presence until it's too late. 
Kredit: ETH Zurich.

Now, researchers at ETH Zurich have developed a novel early warning system for four common types of cancer. An implant keeps watch for elevated levels of calcium in the blood, and warns the patient by growing an artificial mole on their skin.

Early detection of cancer can not only improve survival rates, it can reduce the intensity of the treatments and cut healthcare costs dramatically. To that end, scientists are working to develop techniques such as blood tests, injectable nanoparticles and lab-on-chip systems to get the jump on cancer before it gets out of hand.

The prototype system from ETH Zurich is one of the most unique ideas we've seen so far. It's made up of a genetic network integrated into human cells, encased in an implantable device. When this is inserted under the skin, it constantly checks the calcium levels in a person's blood. High calcium levels are an early biomarker for four of the most common kinds of cancer – prostate, lung, colon and breast.

When the implant detects elevated calcium levels for a prolonged period of time, it triggers the genetically-modified cells to begin producing extra melanin. This pigment is what darkens skin to form freckles and moles, creating a clearly-visible signal at the site of the implant, telling the person that something is wrong and they should visit a doctor.

The mole will appear long before the cancer could normally be detected through other means, and means people won't wait until they feel sick or are in pain to get themselves checked out.



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