Lobster smell, key to new cancer detection technique

Researchers from Michigan State University in the US have shown that lobster can not only ‘sniff’ the difference between cancer cells and healthy cellsThey can also differentiate between different cancer cell lines.

Scientists say the discovery could provide the basis for tools that use insect sensory neurons To be able to detect cancer early using only the patient’s breath.

Although such devices are not on the immediate horizon, They’re not as far-fetched as they might seemsaid the authors of the new research shared on the website on May 25 biorxiv,

One reason for this is that people have become used to technology that enhances or surpasses our natural senses. For example, binoculars and microscope They reveal worlds that would otherwise be invisible.

noses are still cutting edge

Engineering tools can make it easy to overlook breakthrough performance our natural toolsEspecially the sense organs right in front of our eyes.

“The noses are still cutting edge,” says Debjit Saha, assistant professor of biomedical engineering at MSU. “There’s really nothing like them. When it comes to gas detection“, add.

dog experience

That’s why science trusts In Dogs and their Super Sniffers To detect health conditions including drugs, explosives, and more recently, low blood sugar and even COVID-19.

Scientists are working on technology that can mimic the sense of smell, but nothing they’ve designed can rival speed, sensitivity and specificity. Ancient organic smell.

“People have been working on ‘electronic noses’ for over 15 years, but they’re still nowhere near what they do. Biology can do without problems”Saha, who also works at the Institute for Quantitative Health Sciences and Engineering.


Since they were young, Roy and Nairobi have trained to help people and save them from suffering.  Roy is a Springer Spaniel and Nairobi is a Belgian shepherd who, together with his trainer Augustin Ortl, have been able to detect up to 95% of bone tumors that can lead to bone cancer, one of the most harmful known is one.

This lack of gas detection equipment creates an opportunity when deals with early detection of diseases, They particularly like cancer, for which early intervention can save lives.

When cancer is detected at an early stage, patients tend to Chances of survival between 80% to 90%. But if it is not detected by stage 4, the number drops to between 10% and 20%.

Cancer cells function differently from healthy cells and produce different chemical compounds as they function and grow. If these chemicals get into the patient’s lungs or airways, the compound Can be detected by exhaling.

“Theoretically, you could breathe through a device, and it would be able to detect and differentiate many types of cancer and even what stage the disease is in. However, such a device not close to being used yet In a clinical setting,” Saha said.

a new way

Saha and his team are developing a new method. Instead of trying to design something that works like biology, he thought: why not start with solutions that biology has already created after ages of evolution and design from there?

The team is essentially hacking the insect’s brain for use in disease diagnosis. ,It’s a new frontier that’s almost unknownSaha says.


Image of a colonoscopy.

Saha and his team chose to work with locusts as their biological component for several reasons. Lobsters have served the scientific community as model organisms, like fruit flies, for decades. Researchers have developed a significant understanding of its olfactory sensors and associated neural circuitry. And, compared to fruit flies, locusts are big and strong.

This combination of features allows MSU researchers to place Electrodes in the brains of lobsters with relative ease. The scientists then recorded the insects’ reactions to samples of gas produced by healthy cells and cancer cells, and then used those signals to create chemical profiles of the different cells.

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