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Locusts could help Michigan State University researchers detect early signs of cancer

Posted at 9:19 AM, Aug 10, 2022

EAST LANSING, Mich. — Locusts are best known for the massive swarms they form, but that’s not all they’re good at. Michigan State University researchers have found that these big bugs may help detect early signs of cancer.

“The reason we started using locusts to sniff out cancer is because we still cannot use any engineering devices that works very well to do this smell sensing,” said Debajit Saha, an assistant professor of biomedical engineering at MSU.

According to him, these bugs have a really good sense of smell.

“Insect antennas are like our nose. So through antenna, they do all the chemical sensing,” he said.

Not only can the locusts smell the difference between cancer cells and healthy cells, but they can also distinguish between various cancer cell lines.

“So we keep this antenna of the insect alive, and we record from some neurons, and the cells who respond to chemicals that we deliver. So that's how we are generating these neural responses folders,” Saha said.

In other words, the researchers are analyzing the brain of the locust so they can understand how it codes different smells.

“We use that neuroscience knowledge to generate different types of analysis to distinguish, you know, different chemicals present in cancer versus non-cancer,” Saha said.

Saha said this research could help create devices that use insect sensory neurons that detect cancer using only a patient's breath.

According to MSU researchers, when cancer is caught early, patients have an 80 percent to 90 percent chance of survival. The researchers hope that this method will increase the likelihood of early cancer cell detection.

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