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Bugs Battling Cancer?

By John Salak


Holy biblical plague, locusts may hold the key to early cancer detection.

Researchers at Michigan State University have discovered that these bugs can not only sniff out the difference between cancerous and healthy cells, but they might also be able to identify the difference between different types of cancer.

Okay, rest easy. Those dealing with heavy-duty acarophobia (fear of bugs) or who don’t relish the idea of locusts swarming all over their bodies in a doctor’s office can breathe easily. It is a given that physicians won’t have big jars of bugs stacked all over their offices waiting to run a diagnostic check on patients.

Physicians, however, may leverage the Michigan State research to develop devices that use insect sensory neurons to enable the early detection of cancer with as little as using a patient’s breath.

Those devices aren’t yet at hand, but the university researchers maintain they might not be that far off. Scientists are working on technology that can mimic the sense of smell, but nothing yet comes close to competing with the speed, sensitivity and specificity of old-fashioned biological olfaction.

“People have been working on ‘electronic noses’ for more than 15 years, but they’re still not close to achieving what biology can do seamlessly,” said Saha. But their eventual development, based on what researchers learned from locusts, can lead to enhanced early cancer detection that will saves lives. Olfactory capabilities are essential to the process. Cancer cells create chemicals that appear in exhaled breath.

“Theoretically, you could breathe into a device, and it would be able to detect and differentiate multiple cancer types and even which stage the disease is in,” Saha said.  Unfortunately, the theory has yet to morph into reality.

Still, no one is calling for the locusts.

 

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