Along with the diseases of the cardiovascular system , cancer is the leading cause of death in industrialized countries. Most cancers are diagnosed after a tumor has grown greatly. This reduces the success of treatment and survival of patients.
Researchers from the Department of Science and Technology ETH Zurich University of Biosystems in Basel have found a solution to this problem - the synthetic gene network, which serve as an early warning system for disease. This network detects the four most common types of cancer: prostate, lung, colon and breast cancer - at an early stage, namely when the blood calcium level rises due to the growing tumor.
An early warning system includes a genetic network that biotechnologists integrate into human body cells, which, in turn, is inserted into the implant. This gene network encapsulated implanted under the skin and continuously checks the level of calcium in the blood.
Once the calcium concentration exceeds a certain threshold value (for a long period of time), a signaling cascade is triggered which initiates melanin production in genetically modified cells. The result is a brown birthmark, visible to the naked eye on the skin.
Artificial birthmark as an early warning system for cancer
Birthmark appears long before the cancer can be detected by standard diagnostic systems. Then the doctor must examine the implant, to find the cause and, if necessary, prescribe treatment.
"Early diagnosis greatly improves the chances of survival - the researchers note. - For example, if breast cancer is diagnosed early, the likelihood of recovery is 98%, and if the tumor is discovered too late, only one in four women has a good chance of recovery. "
In this implant there is a drawback - its life is limited. The encapsulated cells live for about a year, after which they must be inactivated and replaced.
The device was tested in mouse models and swine. Moles animals developed only when the calcium concentration reached a high level. However, scientists have a long way to go before it will be possible to begin clinical trials on humans.
"Continued development of devices and clinical trials require a lot of work and a serious funding that we, as the research team, we can not afford," - said the scientists. According to their estimates, for the introduction of the implant into the market need to spend more than a decade of research and development.
The concept of "biomedical tattoo" can help not only in the diagnosis of cancer, but also neurodegenerative diseases and hormonal disorders. In principle, scientists could replace one molecular sensor to another, and it will not control the level of calcium and other biomarkers.