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IMAGE: As soon as the calcium level exceeds a particular threshold over a longer period of time, an implant inserted under the skin triggers the production of melanin. This causes a… view more 

Credit: ETH Zurich

Alongside cardiovascular disease, cancer has become the top cause of death in industrialised countries. Many of those affected are diagnosed only after the tumour has developed extensively. This often reduces the chance of recovery significantly: the cure rate for prostate cancer is 32 percent and only 11 percent for colon cancer. The ability to detect such tumours reliably and early would not only save lives, but also reduce the need for expensive, stressful treatment.

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

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