Scientists say they have developed an experimental artificial skin implant that may allow doctors to detect early warning signs of cancer.
The implant, or “biomedical tattoo”, was developed by scientists at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich and is designed to look like a mole which darkens in colour if it detects subtle changes in the body.
The “tiny patch lies under the skin and is made of a network of cells which constantly monitor calcium levels in the body”, says The Daily Telegraph. Calcium levels rise when a tumour is developing, and researchers say around 40% of cancers could theoretically be detected early on by using the implant.
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It “detects all hypercalcemic cancers at a very early, asymptomatic stage,” lead author Martin Fussenegger told AFP. “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.”
If the wearer notices the spot darken, they should see a doctor to clarify the reason for the change and determine whether treatment is required.
Early detection of cancer increases the chance of survival significantly. For example, nearly all women with stage-one breast cancer survive for five years, but by stage four, survival falls to just 22 per cent, according to Cancer.org.
Fussenegger expects it would take “at least a decade” for the implant to reach the market due to funding issues.
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