Stick it!

New research is creating implants that alert us to cancer and dental disease.

At ETH Technical University in Zurich, researchers have created a framework of genes that is integrated with human cells, and then implanted in a particular spot under the skin. The framework constantly checks calcium levels in the blood; unusually high calcium levels are an early warning of lung, colon, breast, and prostate cancer.

When the framework senses dangerously high calcium levels, it produces extra melanin, the skin pigment. The result is an artificial mole on the skin surface above the implant — appropriate, since new moles are often a symptom of cancer.

Although the implants performed well in animal tests, a clinic-ready human test version is said to be at least a decade away.

And, at Washington University, bioengineers have created a sensor a few cubic millimeters in size that can be implanted in the gum, denture, or artificial tooth. The sensor measures the presence of peptides known to be markers for periodontal disease.

The peptides’ signals can be read by a wireless ultrasound scanner.


These early devices point to a future in which our bodies can be dotted with tiny implants to detect early warning signs of disease, including hormonal imbalances or neurodegenerative conditions. Instead of running a series of tests to determine whether we’re getting sick, physicians will simply scan us and read the results.

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