A new artificial mole, created by Swiss scientists, is said to be a potential new partner in the early detection of four of the most common cancers. The new skin implant “will create an artificial ‘mole'”1 on those who are at a high risk of prostate, breast, lung and or bowel cancer.
Once the genetically engineered cells are implanted back into the body, they are triggered by “…high calcium levels and release a pigment which forms the freckle on the skin. Scientists claim the large ‘freckle’ acts as an early warning sign that could save thousands of lives.”2 (Excessive calcium levels in the blood occur in the very early stages of some cancers.)
Every year in the UK, more than 47,000 men are diagnosed with prostate cancer and more than 55,000 women are told they have breast cancer. And in Britain, more than half of new cases of cancer are prostate, breast, lung and bowel cancers- all of which cause calcium to leak out into someone’s bloodstream from their bones- and often before a lump or tumor is found by a person or doctor.
But for those wearing the technology, the appearance of a mole shouldn’t trigger a panic. The mole doesn’t mean death is imminent, rather, it means that investigation and potential treatment need to happen.
“People can self-monitor for artificial moles in future, and the scientists say the implant could also be used to create a mole only visible under red light to save them the worry and be checked by a doctor at regular appointments instead. However, it only lasts for a year before needing to be replaced.”3
Dr. Catherine Pickworth from Cancer Research UK, is excited about the new discovery but also urged caution, saying, “This study in mice shows that a biomedical tattoo could detect changes in the amount of calcium in the blood, but we need to see if this holds true in people. High levels of calcium can be an indicator of cancer but also many other conditions, so this approach may one day help doctors identify when patients could benefit from further tests.”4
After successful pig and mice trials, researchers hope to test it on people within five years and release it to the market in the next decade. The results have been published in the journal Science Translational Medicine.