Saturday, January 28, 2023

Could an ant's sense of smell be so strong it could sniff out cancerous tumors? Yes, says study

Researchers are training ants to detect the scent of human cancer cells, a new study indicates.

Baptiste Piqueret
According to a story this week by Dino Grandoni in The Washington Post, the study "highlights a keen ant sense and underscores how someday we may use sharp-nosed animals — or, in the case of ants, sharp-antennaed — to detect tumors quickly and cheaply."

Dr. Baptiste Piqueret, a post-doctoral fellow at the Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology in Germany, is quoted as saying that "the results are very promising [but] it's important to know that we are far from using them as a daily way to detect cancer."

He explains that "there will be no direct contact between ants and patients. So, even if people are afraid of insects, it's fine."

Piqueret, the Post article says, "has been fascinated by ants ever since playing with them as a child in his parents' garden in the French countryside. 'I've always loved ants,' he said, 'looking at them, playing with them.'"

He once, however, "had to reassure someone aware of his research that the ants that swarmed a picnic were not a sign of cancer," the story continues. "'The ants were not trained,' he said. 'They just want to eat sugar.'"

Fererica Pirrone
Grandoni's story also quotes Federica Pirrone, associate professor in the Department of Veterinary Medicine and Animal Sciences at the University of Milan who was not involved in the ant research but has conducted similar investigations into the smelling ability of dogs, as saying that "the study was well conceived and conducted." However, she cautions that "to have real confirmations, we need to wait for the next steps."

The study was published this week in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences.

Piqueret, the Post article says, "conducted the research while studying at the Universite Sorbonne Paris Nord in France. During Covid lockdowns, he brought silky ants into his apartment outside Paris to continue his experiments. He chose the species because it has a good memory's easy to train and doesn't bite (at least not hard, Piqueret said)."

Information on other studies that can detect diseases can be found in Rollercoaster: How a man can survive his partner's breast cancer, a VitalityPress book that I, Woody Weingarten, aimed at male caregivers.

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