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How Accurate Are Honeybees In Identifying Lung Cancer?

Researchers at Michigan State University have discovered that honeybees can detect chemicals linked to lung cancer in human breath with 82% accuracy

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A study from Michigan State University has revealed that honeybees might hold the key to early lung cancer detection. Researchers discovered that these insects could identify chemicals linked to lung cancer in human breath with an impressive 82% accuracy. The study, published in the journal Biosensors and Bioelectronics, opens up the possibility of using bees as a natural and sensitive way to screen for cancer.

"Insects have an amazing sense of smell, just like dogs," explained MSU professor Debajit Saha. Saha, an assistant professor in the College of Engineering and the Institute for Quantitative Health Science and Engineering, led the research to see if honeybees could differentiate between the breath of healthy individuals and those with lung cancer.

Saha's team crafted two types of synthetic breath mixtures: one mimicking the breath of someone with lung cancer and another representing healthy breath. "It took a steady hand to create the recipe," noted Elyssa Cox, Saha's former lab manager. They tested these mixtures on about 20 bees.

Each bee was placed in a custom 3D-printed harness, and a tiny electrode was attached to its brain to monitor activity. "We passed the odors over the honeybees' antennae and recorded their brain's neural signals," said Saha. "We observed changes in the bees' neural responses."

The results were striking. The bees could detect cancer-related compounds even in very small amounts, showcasing their ability to distinguish between minute chemical differences.

Researchers hope this study will pave the way for developing a breath test for lung cancer using a sensor modelled after a honeybee's brain. "What’s amazing is the honeybees' ability to not only detect cancer cells but also distinguish between various types of lung cancer," said Autumn McLane-Svoboda, a graduate student on Saha's team. This sensor could potentially allow for quick and specific cancer diagnoses, crucial for effective treatment.

Lung cancer remains the leading cause of cancer deaths worldwide, with an estimated 235,580 new cases expected in the US in 2024. Smoking is the primary risk factor, accounting for 80% of lung cancer deaths. Early detection is vital, as it can reduce the chance of death by up to 20%.

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