A Canadian study found that equipment used for tattooing could treat a disfiguring facial sore, along with various skin conditions and potentially, skin cancer. The research was conducted at McGill University by biochemist Amy Fortin and published in Scientific Reports.
The study, first reported by The National Post, reveals that tattooing equipment could treat cutaneous leishmaniasis (CL), a parasite that leaves an individual with disfiguring facial sores. Leishmaniasis is commonly found in the Middle East and transmitted by sand flies, which was a serious concern for the health of troops returning from Afghanistan. Between August 2002 and February 2004, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found 522 cases of CL in returning personnel from the Department of Defense. According to Medscape, staff physicians from Infectious Diseases at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center indicated an increase in the number of CL cases since 2004, though official statistics have not been published.
Leishmaniasis can also be fatal and attack internal organs. However, this is rare. The most common form of the illness is not fatal, but leaves ulcers on faces, affecting one’s relationships and social life. It is estimated that 1.5 million people worldwide contract leishmaniasis.
Current treatments for CL include a monthly intramuscular injection, which is said to be painful and toxic. Another method is delivering hypodermics into the lesion, which is unpleasant.
Along with the disfiguring facial sore, it is believed that tattoo equipment may also potentially treat skin cancer and other related ailments in the future. Currently, more than two million people are diagnosed with 3.5 million forms of skin cancer each year.
The research released today provides hope. It suggests that the tattoo machine could transmit drugs in place of ink to specific, infected cells without penetrating too deep, thus avoiding any sensitive nerves and providing a less painful method. Fortin describes this as similar to how the parasite injects when it bites an individual.
The study compared the various treatments of the ulcers, from intramuscular injection to an ointment and to the tattoo machine. It was found that the latter was the most effective treatment of all three cases. The lesions cleared up completely.
The American Family Physician (AFP) says that leishmaniasis can be found in North and South America, Africa, Asia and Europe. Worldwide, it is estimated that there are 12 million cases, with 1.5 to 2 million new incidences annually. Travelers are most at risk of coming in contact with CL in Latin America, specifically after traveling from Brazil and Peru. Uruguay and Chile are known to be exceptions. Within the United States, 50 to 100 incidences of CL are seen each year. The AFP reports that leishmaniasis can be found primarily in rural locations where poverty is rampant, although there are some cases where it has been found in urban areas, too.
Fortin used the word “logical” to describe how the disfiguring facial sore and possible skin cancer can be effectively treated by tattoo equipment. Nevertheless, she expressed surprise, considering how successful the research was. So far, the study has not been conducted on humans, only mice, and the next goal is to try drug-tattooing people. To reach that point, the technique would have to be conducted on pigs first, since their skin is similar to humans.
By Kollin Lore