Researchers at the Department of Biosystems at the Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) Zurich in Basel have developed an early warning system for cancer. Should a tumour develop, an implant under the skin develops into a visible mole.
Early diagnosis of cancer significantly improves chances of survival. Now, researchers at the Department of Biosystems (D-BSSE) at the Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) Zurich in Basel have developed an early warning system for the four most common types of cancer – prostate, lung, colon and breast cancer.
Their solution comprises a synthetic gene network integrated into human body cells, which are inserted into an implant under the patient’s skin. This encapsulated gene network then constantly monitors the blood calcium level, which rises due to developing tumours.
If the calcium level exceeds a particular threshold value over a longer period of time, a signal cascade is triggered that initiates production of the body’s tanning pigment melanin in the genetically modified cells. The skin then forms a visible brown mole.
The mole appears long before the cancer becomes detectable through conventional diagnosis. “An implant carrier should then see a doctor for further evaluation after the mole appears,” explained ETH researcher Martin Fussenegger in a statement.
Successful tests of the gene capsule have already been carried out in mice and pigs, although there is still a long way to go before human testing can begin. The research group cannot afford to conduct such clinical tests, but would like to promote the translation of the developments, according to Fussenegger.