An inkless tattoo that detects cancer


A skull, ”  I love mum  “, a scorpion, everything had already passed. All except perhaps “Attention, cancer! “. A biomedical tattoo developed by the team of Martin Fussenegger, of the Federal Institute of Technology Zurich, can detect the occurrence of certain cancers by detecting an early biological signal: a high and prolonged level of calcium in the blood (or hypercalcemia). It was presented on April 18 in the journal Science Transnational Medicine .

Without ink

In the vast majority of cases, cancers are detected at an advanced stage, often too late for cure. Yet, “in the case of prostate cancer or colon cancer, there is more than a 90% chance of treating the patient if the tumor is detected at an early stage,” explains Martin Fussenegger. Unfortunately, too few tools are developed to promote rapid detection. ”

To overcome the problem, the biologist and his team have developed a tattoo that becomes darker in case of early cancer. Tattooing is not really one: it has no ink, but is composed of cells injected under the skin and genetically modified so that they have on their surface receptors that capture calcium. When calcium is fixed in hypercalcemia, it triggers the production of melanin, the pigment responsible for the dark coloring of the skin. The tattoo becomes darker, alerting the patient.

Biomedical tattoo

“All components are biocompatible and naturally exist in the body,” says Martin Fussenegger. What to limit for example the risk of infection or rejection.

Only a high calcium level over a long period will lead to the staining of the cells. “By injecting these cells at a certain point under the skin, we are able to detect the possible development of a tumor with the simple appearance of a spot or a mole,” says Martin Fussenegger.

For now, this tattoo has been tested in mice and pigskin samples. Hyperglycemia can be linked to other diseases, such as cardiac arrhythmia. To avoid misdiagnosis, this tattoo should only be used by at-risk patients, such as those who have already had cancer in the past. But this device, if it were to be used clinically, could be an additional way to detect diseases before they do damage.

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