[R]esearchers 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.
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.
With further research, the team says the concept could be adapted to monitor other biomarkers besides calcium, to serve as early warning systems for other gradually-developing illnesses like neurodegenerative diseases and hormonal disorders. Unfortunately, a publicly-available device is still at least a decade away.
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