By Alan Mozes
THURSDAY, April 19, 2018 (HealthDay News) — Tattoos serve many purposes, perhaps expressing artistry, loyalty or love. Now, scientists working with mice say they’ve engineered a medical “tattoo” that can screen for early signs of major disease.
The biomedical tattoo is made up of cells embedded with sensors that measure levels of blood calcium.
It’s initially invisible when implanted under the skin. But the sensors become apparent if blood calcium levels rise. This indicates a condition called hypercalcemia, which is a marker for several cancers and other major diseases.
“Forty percent of all cancers — including colon cancer, lung cancer, breast cancer and prostate cancer — disrupt calcium balance (homeostasis),” said study lead author Martin Fussenegger.
“The biomedical tattoo is designed to catch mild hypercalcemia,” which produces no symptoms, he said.
Appearance of the tattoo may signal that some of those cancers may start to develop, said Fussenegger, of ETH Zurich’s department of biosystems science and engineering in Basel, Switzerland.
When elevated blood calcium persists, the implant releases melanin, producing a telltale dark patch on the skin, he said. (Melanin is a dark pigment responsible for tanning.)
But whether this is just a fun gimmick or a reliable diagnostic tool remains to be seen.
Dr. Janice Dutcher is a medical oncologist with the Cancer Research Foundation in New York City.
She described the innovation as a “neat gimmick.”
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