We already knew about cancer detection dogs. Now we learn that some ants may also be able to distinguish human cancer cells from healthy cells thanks to their sense of smell. Before these critters are found in hospitals, many clinical tests still need to be performed.
Are we going to detect cancer thanks to ants? This is the crazy guess of a team of researchers currently working on this track. This method would be a less invasive and cheaper alternative to the current means of detection.
CNRS researchers from Sorbonne Paris Nord University, Institut Curie and Inserm have spotted an ant species with a particularly keen sense of smell: formica fusca† The result of their research has been published in the journal Science.
To conduct their research, the scientists conducted experiments on 36 ants. First, the specialists exposed the ants to the smell of a sample of human cancer cells. This scent was then associated with a sweet solution reward. Next, the researchers exposed the ants to two different scents. One was a new smell and the second was cancer cells. When this test was successful, the researchers exposed the ants to various cancer cells.
“Ants distinguish between cancer cells and healthy cells and between two cancer lines”† after learning, formica fusca are able to detect volatile organic compounds emitted by cancer cells.
Ants, more efficient than dogs
Before it is widely used, “the effectiveness of this method should be evaluated through clinical testing on a whole human organism”remembers the CNRS. “But this first study shows the great potential of ants, which can learn very quickly, at a lower cost and at the same time are efficient”†
This isn’t the first time scientists have used animals’ sense of smell to detect cancer cells. “Dog noses are well suited for medical diagnosis and are used for the detection of cancer-specific volatile organic compounds”, the researchers acknowledge. However, their training requires several months. Other way around, “Insects can be easily grown under controlled conditions, they are inexpensive, they have a highly developed olfactory system, and hundreds of individuals can be conditioned with very little testing”the researchers explain.
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