According to a new study, ants can be used to diagnose cancer in humans, thanks to their sensitive olfactory system.
The research the world is talking about: Ants that can smell cancer
Scientists have detected for the first time that ants can diagnose cancer in mice at this stage.
“Ants can be trained to detect cancer in the urine of mice in ten minutes,” said Baptiste Piqueret, lead author of the study. Piqueret began field research in 2017 and was able to train ants to distinguish between healthy cells and cancerous cells grown in the lab.
Now Piqueret and his team have gone a step further and are able to detect tumors in ants and mice.
TRAINING ANTS TO SMELL
Piqueret and his team used a technique called xenograft (foreign tissue graft) to implant human breast cancer tissue into mice and let the tumor grow.
They then collected urine samples from both cancerous and sick mice.
“During training, we collected the ants in a round area and placed food as a reward next to the urine we received from cancer mice,” says Piqueret.
As the ants found the rewarded food, they associated the reward with cancerous cells and learned to recognize it.
“Cells are like factories, they need food to live and produce waste. Cancerous cells also produce a waste that can be detected in the odor,” he says.
In other words, in the study, it was determined that cancerous cells have a certain organic structure that can be detected in urine or breath.
So, can ants be used to diagnose cancer in humans? “Not yet,” says Piqureet. “We need to test human urine before we can go any further,” emphasizing that this may be more complex than testing mouse urine.
Because there are many different variables such as age, gender, eating habits and the smell unique to each person for ants to detect the cancerous cell smell in humans.
However, the scientist is determined to do more research on this subject and believes that ants can be an extremely useful diagnostic tool that does not require much training.
“Another advantage is that ants live in colonies and share information with each other,” says Piqueret, noting that if 10% of the colony is trained, they can spread this information to others;
“Maybe the information will spread and we won’t have to spend time training an entire colony”
Piqueret stressed that this theory has proven to be valid in bees, but that more research needs to be done in ants.
WHAT OTHER ANIMALS CAN BE USED?
Michigan State University’s Dr. Debajit Saha has been working on whether they can detect locusts and cancer cells for 10 years.
His team found that the locusts can distinguish between the odor of cancerous and healthy cells. However, they are not trying to train the locusts, but to activate an ability that already exists in the grasshoppers’ brains.
Dr. “We can go directly to the brain and build a model from the brain signals,” Saha told the BBC.
Saha and her team hope that information from the brains of locusts could provide the basis for a device that could detect cancer by simply breathing in a patient, using sensory receptors in insects.
“I like working on the idea of how to use biological organisms to diagnose disease,” Saha says.
However, insects are not the only creatures that can help with this.
A UK charity called Medical Detection Dogs is working on the development of an electronic nose that can detect prostate cancer.
“Our work began with whether dogs can detect bladder cancer,” Sophie Aziz, the organisation’s Director of Research and Commercial Development, told the BBC. “We studied the effectiveness of dogs in detecting the disease in urine samples from cancer patients.”
The organization trained six different breeds of dogs in 2004 and found that diagnostic accuracy was three times better than random detection. Later studies found that dogs could detect bladder cancer in 90% of cases.
Another study showed that dogs were able to detect ovarian cancer from patients’ blood samples. Trained dogs could find 99% of cases.
In the next phase, the development of the electronic nose began, but this proved to be difficult due to the very small differences in scents.
“Especially when it comes to diseases, odors can depend on the patient’s own microbiome and immune system response to the disease,” Aziz says.
But he believes the new research could add to other work in insect Cancer Detection.
“The more we can learn about animals, the better. The more information comes from groups like ours, or from research examining how ants detect cancer, the better. They all contribute to creating the big picture.”