Synthetic cancer indicator: An artificial mole as an early warning system

ScienceDaily | 4/18/2018 | Staff
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Researchers working with Martin Fussenegger, Professor at the Department of Biosystems Science and Engineering at ETH Zurich in Basel, have now presented a possible solution for this problem: a synthetic gene network that serves as an early warning system. It recognises the four most common types of cancer -- prostate, lung, colon and breast cancer -- at a very early stage, namely when the level of calcium in the blood is elevated due to the developing tumour.

The early warning system comprises a genetic network that biotechnologists integrate into human body cells, which in turn are inserted into an implant. This encapsulated gene network is then implanted under the skin where it constantly monitors the blood calcium level.

Calcium - Level - Threshold - Value - Period

As soon as 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 brown mole that is visible to the naked eye.

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," explains Fussenegger. It is no reason to panic. "The mole does not mean that the person is likely to die soon," stresses the ETH professor. It simply means that clarification and if necessary treatment are needed.

Researchers - Calcium - Indicator - Development - Types

The researchers used calcium as the indicator of the development of the four types of cancer, as it is regulated strongly in the body. Bones serve as a buffer that can balance out concentration differences. However, when too much calcium is detected in the blood, this may serve as a sign for one of the four cancers.

"Early detection increases the chance of survival significantly," says Fussenegger. For example, if breast cancer is detected...
(Excerpt) Read more at: ScienceDaily
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