honeybee collecting pollen from flower
Sean Cate
Sean Cate
June 22, 2024 ·  3 min read

New Research Says Honeybees Can Detect Lung Cancer In Humans

Honeybees are not only vital pollinators but also possess an incredible sense of smell, which researchers are now harnessing in groundbreaking ways. Recent studies have demonstrated that these tiny insects can detect lung cancer in humans with remarkable accuracy. This innovative approach could potentially revolutionize cancer screening and early detection.

The Study

bee pollinating
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Researchers at Michigan State University (MSU) have uncovered a novel method for detecting lung cancer using honeybees. According to a study published in the journal Biosensors and Bioelectronics, honeybees were able to identify chemicals associated with lung cancer in human breath with an impressive 82% success rate.¹

Read More: These Bees Formed a Heart-Shaped Hive When There Weren’t Any Frames To Guide Them

Methodology

lung cancer closeup
Credit: Getty

The MSU team, led by Assistant Professor Debajit Saha, developed a synthetic breath mixture containing six compounds found in the breath of lung cancer patients. They also created a “healthy” breath mixture for comparison. The researchers placed each live bee in a custom 3D-printed harness and attached a tiny electrode to its brain to measure neural activity in response to these compounds.

Findings

Bee isolated on white background. Close up of honeybee
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The bees were exposed to the synthetic lung cancer breath mixture and the healthy breath mixture. The study found that the bees’ neural signals showed a distinct difference when exposed to the cancer-indicating compounds, even in tiny amounts. This sensitivity to small chemical changes in the breath suggests that honeybees can detect lung cancer biomarkers at concentrations as low as parts per billion.

Potential Impact

medical screening
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This research could lead to the development of a sensor based on the honeybee olfactory system, which could be used to test human breath for lung cancer. Such a device would allow for non-invasive, real-time screening and could significantly improve early detection rates.2

Advantages Over Current Methods

Medical scanning
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Current lung cancer detection methods, such as CT scans, are expensive and often not accessible to everyone. A honeybee-based sensor could provide a cost-effective and easily deployable alternative, particularly in low-resource settings. Additionally, early detection of high-risk lung cancer can reduce the chance of death by up to 20%, highlighting the potential life-saving impact of this technology.

The Role of Honeybee Olfaction

honeybees on their way
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Honeybees have an extraordinary sense of smell, comparable to that of dogs, which are already used in some medical detection scenarios. The honeybee’s olfactory system is highly sensitive and can differentiate between complex chemical mixtures. This capability makes them suitable for detecting specific biomarkers associated with diseases like lung cancer.

Read More: Beehives in Texas Attacked, Set On Fire, Killing Half a Million Bees, Officials Say

Future Implications

Asian patient's hand with an attached pulse oximeter on finger for monitoring,daughter holding her mother's hand,supporting comforting of seriously ill patient,intensive care in ICU room at hospital
Source: Shutterstock

The researchers are optimistic about the future applications of their findings. The development of a sensor mimicking the honeybee brain could provide a quick and accurate diagnosis, enabling timely and appropriate treatment. This could be particularly beneficial for lung cancer, which is the leading cause of cancer death worldwide.

Conclusion

bees
Credit: Pixabay

While honeybees are commonly known for their role in pollination, this new research underscores their potential in medical diagnostics. The ability of honeybees to detect lung cancer in human breath opens up exciting possibilities for non-invasive cancer screening methods. As researchers continue to refine this technology, it could become a valuable tool in the early detection and treatment of lung cancer, ultimately saving countless lives.

Read More: Five Women Sat Near Each Other at Work, and All Got The Same Type of Cancer, Leading to Major Investigation

Sources

  1. Honeybees can detect lung cancer, researchers say.” Fox News. Chris Pandolfo. June 15, 2024.
  2. Honeybees can detect lung cancer in humans: Research.” WCIA. Rich Johnson. June 17, 2024.