Dogs can sniff out and detect sickness in people. They may detect a reduction in their owners’ blood sugar levels, as well as the onset of TB, cancer, or COVID.
It is believed that animals detect compounds that humans generate through body odor or breath. The mixture of molecules can vary based on a person’s metabolism, which is believed to alter when a person becomes ill.
Since training a dog is expensive and not very effective for many patient, scientists were asking themselves how to scale their ability. How they can replicate the dogs’ noses.
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Researchers from Michigan State University published a study in the journal bioRXiv, about how they used locusts’ brains to create a cancer screening system. The team is hopeful that it can one day lead to the rise of a new kind of device that functions similarly.
Because locusts have been extensively examined in recent years, the researchers opted to focus on those insects. In a preliminary procedure, the brain of a living locust was surgically revealed. Then, according to Debajit Saha, a brain engineer at Michigan State University, they put electrodes in parts of the brain that get signals from the antennae that insects use to smell.
according to , the scientists also used three different kinds of human oral cancer cells as well as cancer-free human mouth cells. They employed a mechanism to catch gas released by each type of cell and deliver it to the antennae of the locusts.
Saha says these changes are on the order of parts per billion. So small that this makes them difficult to detect even with cutting-edge equipment. However, dogs have detected such small differences in odors. Therefore, the research team decided to “steal” an animal’s brain.
Saha told MIT Technology Review. “The insect is dead in terms of its body function. We are just keeping its brain alive.” Still, the study hasn’t been peer-reviewed yet, and it’s difficult to know if regulators like the Food and Drug Administration would ever allow such an approach. People could also find the treatment of the locusts questionable.
The brains of locusts responded differently to each cell type. The patterns of electrical activity that were recorded were so different that when the scientists blew the gas from one type of cell onto the antennas, they could tell from the recording alone whether or not the cells were cancerous.
Saha believes he will be able to put the brain of living locusts and antennas in a portable device to be tested and find cancer in real people.