Monday, January 6, 2014

The Buzz on Cancer

I called this post "The Buzz on Cancer" because it's about bees. Ha! Funny stuff.

I'm cleaning out some old links from  last month, and this one is from Smithsonian magazine, called "Can Bees Be Trained to Sniff Out Cancer?"

Apparently, bees have an amazing sense of smell; they can detect even just a few molecules of a scent in a room. Scientists have even been able to train them to detect substances such as methamphetamines, explosives, and diseases such as diabetes.

So it's really not too much of a leap to think that bees could be trained to sniff out cancer.

A British designer created a two-chambered glass diagnostic device for just such a purpose. Bees are trained with a food reward to react to specific scents. A patient blows into the device, and if bees sense the presence of cancer, they swarm to it.

The project was created as part of  Master's thesis in Art. Very cool.

Bees aren't the only animals to be trained to sniff out cancer. Dogs, for example, have also been trained to do so. As this article notes, though, bees have an advantage in that their antennae can pick up individual scent molecules more effectively than dogs' noses. In fact, dogs need about 3 months of training, and have a 71% accuracy rate. Bees have a 98% accuracy rate, and can be trained in about 10 minutes.

Now, I have written about cancer-sniffing dogs before. I find them fascinating because the first cancer-sniffing dog was a standard schnauzer named George, and my own dog, Strudel, is a standard schnauzer.

I've also pointed out that, despite having had her for nearly a year, my Strudel gave no indication whatsoever that I might have cancer. No sniffing around and acting agitated. No pulling on my sleeve and leading me to a phone book open to "Oncologists." Nothing. Just the occasional leg hump, and a lot of whining to go out to go to the bathroom or eat dinner.

I'm not saying she isn't cute....

....just kind of useless in the cancer detection department.

So I guess I'll take the bees. And as an award-winning gardener***, I'm OK with that.

(***My kids fine me $1 for every time I call myself an award-winning gardener, but frankly, it's worth it.)

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