Tuesday, October 4, 2022

Locusts Can Smell Cancer, and This Could Give Us a New Way to Prevent Deaths

HomescienceLocusts Can Smell Cancer, and This Could Give Us a New Way...

Using their sense of smell, scientists have proved that locusts are efficient at distinguishing between healthy human cells and malignant ones. This could pave the way for earlier detection of the disease, increasing the likelihood of recovery.

Even better, the insects can actually identify individual cancer cell lines, indicating that both the presence and kind of cancer may be recognised.

If we can figure out how to incorporate this capability into medical equipment, there is a tremendous lot of promise.

Published ahead of peer review on the pre-print website BioRxiv, its findings appear promise for early cancer diagnosis.

The detection of locusts, as indicated by changes in their brain activity captured by electrodes, is proven to be accurate, sensitive, and rapid — occurring within milliseconds.

Microbiologist Christopher Contag from Michigan State University asserts, “Early identification [of cancer] is crucial, and we should employ every available instrument to do it, whether designed or the result of millions of years of natural selection.”

If we are successful, cancer will be a sickness that can be treated.

All of this is made possible by the volatile organic chemicals (VOCs) we exhale, which scientists know are altered by cancer’s interference with the metabolic processes of individual cells.

The trick is to recognise the shift early.

The locust is a common insect utilised in olfactory studies, so we already know a great deal about these creatures’ olfactory abilities.

Using electrodes linked to the locusts’ brains, the team was able to quantify the insects’ response to gas samples from various cells and establish signal profiles representing the substances they were detecting.

Indeed, the profiles generated in response to healthy and cancerous cells were unique.

Scientists were able to confirm that the cells did indeed smell different to the locusts, most likely as a result of the volatile organic compounds (VOCs) emitted into the air. Previously, they had determined that mouth cancer cells differed from normal cells under a microscope and attributed this to changes in metabolites.

This study was limited to oral cancers, but the researchers are convinced that other types of cancer might be recognised in a similar manner due to the unique signatures of VOCs produced.

“We anticipated that cancer cells would resemble normal cells differently. Amazingly, the insects could recognise three distinct tumours from one another “says Contag.

When cancer is identified at stage 4, the survival rate is between 10 and 20 percent across all cancer types (when it has spread to other parts of the body). Compared to malignancies detected at stage 1, where patients have an 80-90 percent chance of survival, this is a significant difference.

The development of ‘bionic nose’ devices that may detect shifts in volatile organic compounds (VOCs) is already underway, but scientists are still some distance from building sensors that are comparable to what nature has produced. This discovery may provide an alternative path ahead for this study.

The team’s ultimate goal is to “hack” the insect brain in order to exploit it for disease diagnostics by reverse engineering the locusts’ natural smelling ability. Still in their infancy, the researchers see envision a road to practical detection systems.

Biomedical engineer Debajit Saha from Michigan State University explains, “Theoretically, you could breathe via a device that could detect and discriminate numerous types of cancer and even the disease’s stage.”

However, such a device is not yet ready for usage in clinical settings.

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