A common enzyme in both banana skin and human skin is helping scientists get a jump on skin cancer. What’s more, the new detection method pioneered as a result of this analysis is non-invasive and may eliminate the need for skin biopsies in the future.
The enzyme tyrosinase causes both the brown spots on bananas’ skin as well as humans’ skin. In humans who have melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer. The researchers conducting these studies, under the direction of Hubert Girault at the Laboratory of Physical and Analytical Electrochemistry at Sion, posit that when tyrosinase malfunctions, it causes disruption in melanin, the chemical responsible for skin pigmentation. This disruption results in brown spots…and the spots are about the same size on both humans and bananas.
By analyzing the growth of the spots on bananas researchers were able to draw parallels between the spots’ appearance and distribution on bananas’ skin and skin samples from cancer patients. These parallels allowed scientists to draw conclusions based on the spot pigmentation and distribution and the stage of cancer.
In Stage I melanoma, the level and distribution of tyrosinase isn’t apparent, but the levels and appearance change through stages 2 and 3. Armed with this knowledge, the research team was able to design a scanner that passes over the uneven skin and, using an electrochemical response mechanism, measures the amount of tyrosinase present, as well as its distribution. This gives researchers the ability to determine the stage of skin cancer present.
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Next on the agenda: create a scanner based on the one used for diagnosis for treatment of cancerous tumors. This could eliminate the need for biopsies or chemotherapy. “Our initial laboratory tests showed us that our device could be used to destroy the cells,” Girault stated. While this device is still in the conception stages, it could give a lot of hope for cancer patients to receive much less-invasive and potentially more targeted treatment of skin cancer than current methods.