Honeybees can detect lung cancer in humans: Research

June 15, 2024

(NewsNation) — Bad breath may say a lot about you. But soon, it could help determine if you have lung cancer — if a honeybee gets a whiff.

Researchers at Michigan State University have discovered that honeybees can detect the chemicals associated with lung cancer in a person’s breath.

“Insects have an amazing sense of smell the same way dogs do,” said Debajit Saha, an assistant professor at MSU’s Institute for Quantitative Health Science and Engineering, in a release from the university.

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Saha’s team developed a “recipe” for a synthetic breath mixture using different levels of six compounds. One version created the breath of a healthy human, and another created the chemical makeup of the breath of someone with lung cancer.

Using a special harness to hold a live honeybee, researchers attached a tiny electrode to the bee’s brain to measure changes in brain signals.

“We pass those odors on to the antenna of the honeybees and recorded the neural signals from their brain,” said Saha. “We (saw) a change in the honeybee’s neural firing response.”

The researchers detected several different neurons firing in the bees’ brains, which showed a clear difference between smelling the synthetic lung cancer breath and the healthy breath.

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The plan is to use this research to develop a sensor that mimics the honeybee brain. That would be used in a device patients would breathe into, and the device would report in real time if cancer chemicals are present.

Lung cancer is the second most common cancer in the U.S., trailing only prostate cancer in men and breast cancer in women. The American Cancer Society estimates that more than 234,000 new cases of lung cancer will be detected this year, and about 125,000 people will die from it.