How Scientists Are Using Bananas to Detect Skin Cancer

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Researchers are using the tropical fruit to develop a new screening system for melanoma.

When it comes to appearance, people have something in common with bananas: The older they get, the more spots start to appear. That's no coincidence, researchers have discovered. The enzyme that causes those black spots on ripening bananas is also present in human skin. It's called tyrosinase and, as it turns out, people with melanoma have it in greater quantities. Researchers from the Laboratory of Physical and Analytical Elctrochemistry in Switzerland have verified tyrosinase as a reliable marker of cancer growth, and now scientists are using this common trait to create a screening system for skin cancer. That is, after they tested it first on (you guessed it) bananas.

The spots on bananas actually appear in similar sizes and colors to melanoma, so the fruit was an ideal substitute for human guinea pigs. Scientists hope the comb-like scanner, which uses micro electrodes to test for the distribution the enzyme, will be able to replace more invasive biopsies. The tyrosinase enzyme is most prevalent in stage 2, so the banana-based test is not as early of a warning system as we might like. But as with any cancer, survival rates for melanoma are higher the when it's detected earlier. So it's conceivable that one day, you could have bananas to thank for saving your life.

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