The Latest In Cancer Detection Technology Isn't A Whizz-Bang Machine - It's Fruit Flies

A fruit fly on a podium while scents are emitted from the tube on the left, as a microscope, above, records images of the fly’s antenna. Photo: supplied

Inspired by the fact that dogs can detect a range of cancers, from melanoma to prostate, breast and bowel cancers by smell, a group of researchers have discovered fruit flies can also detect abnormal cells in what scientists call “chemosensing”.

An international collaboration between the University of Konstanz in Germany and University La Sapienza in Rome, argue that fruit flies could be used to expand to range of diagnostic tools to detect cancer in a paper published in the journal Scientific Report today.

Konstanz-based neurobiologist and zoologist Professor Giovanni Galizia said the fruit flies were able to distinguish between cancerous and healthy cells using their olfactory sense with greater precision that modern technology.

“What really is new and spectacular about this result is the combination of objective, specific and quantifiable laboratory results and the extremely high sensitivity of a living being that cannot be matched by electronic noses or gas chromatography,” Prof Galizia said.

“The high sensitivity of the natural olfactory receptors, paired with the quickness with which we can generate these test results, might lead to the development of a cheap, fast and highly-efficient pre-screening that can detect cancer cells well before we can discover them with the present diagnostic imaging techniques.”

Even more remarkably, in the experiment five different types of breast cancer cell lines were analysed, compared to healthy cells and clearly divergent patterns were generated.

Researchers used the fact that single odour molecules dock to the receptor neurons of a fly’s antenna and activate specific neurons. In an imaging technique they developed different molecules of the respective scent samples created different patterns of activated neurons, meaning that as well as distinguishing cancerous cells, the flies were also to detect different types of cancer.

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