News of Note—A skin implant to detect cancer; nonhormonal birth control for men

Swiss bioengineers created a skin implant that detects high blood calcium, which can be an early sign of cancer. (ETH Zurich)

An artificial mole to detect cancer

Bioengineers at ETH Zurich in Basel have created an early warning system for prostate, lung, colon and breast cancer: a skin implant that constantly monitors blood calcium. When calcium levels exceed a certain threshold, the implant starts a process that prompts the skin to produce melanin, which in turn causes an artificial mole to appear on the skin. Why calcium? Excess production of the mineral has been observed in the early development of those four cancers and it can be detected in blood, they explained in a paper published in Science Translational Medicine. They tested their system in a mouse model, and they believe the artificial mole could improve the detection of cancer, which is often curable in its earliest stages. (Release)

A new idea in male contraception

North Carolina-based Eppin Pharma is developing a compound, called EP055, that immobilizes sperm, thereby limiting their fertilization ability. New research in macaques from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Medicine showed that after a high-dose infusion of the compound, the animals lacked normal sperm motility. There were no side effects, the scientists reported in the journal PLOS ONE. Eppin is now working on an oral form of the compound, which is nonhormonal, and it is planning a mating trial to test its effectiveness against pregnancy. (Release)

Using nanotech to make drugs smarter

Scientists from the University of Lincoln in the U.K. are using gold nanoparticles to tailor drugs capable of targeting particular regions of the body. The nanoparticles are designed to hold drugs on their surface that would normally degrade quickly in blood. By fusing together proteins from bacteria and flatworms, and then layering them onto the nanoparticles, they say they were able to form stable bonds that will facilitate the precise targeting of drug delivery. They published the discovery in the journal Nature Communications. (Release)