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Jan 31, 2014 07:20 AM EST

Fruit Flies Distinguishes Healthy And Cancer Cells, Study

The fruit fly on the podium.
(Photo : PR) The fruit fly on the podium.

Fruit Flies can differentiate cancerous cells from healthy cells via their sense of smell (olfactory sense), according to an international group of researchers. 

Researchers at the University of Konstanz, Germany and the University La Sapienza in Rome, Italy, modified receptor cells on the fruit flies' antenna so that it glows when the insects smell cancer odors.

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"What really is new and spectacular about this result is the combination of objective, specific and quantifiable laboratory results and the extremely high sensitivity of a living being that cannot be matched by electronic noses or gas chromatography", Giovanni Galizia, who led the project, said in a statement.

Cancer and ordinary cells release different odors due to their metabolic differences. The natural olfactory systems can identify the tiny differences between healthy and cancer cells. Other research has already proved that bees and dogs can smell cancer. The recent study was conducted to find whether or not fruit flies, which are sensitive to smell, could display similar behavior.  

Generally, olfactory receptor neurons have a specific olfactory receptor type. But, neurons of fruit flies have around 50 different types of receptors. The researchers said that the receptor neurons respond according to different odors, Gizmag reports.

For the study, the researchers modified certain neurons in fruit flies in a way so that when they detected a cancerous odor, the imbibed fluorescent protein glows. They exposed the fruit flies to different types of odors and observed the insects through microscope.

The researchers found that the fruit flies' antenna were not only able to distinguish cancer cells from the normal ones, they could also determine different types of cancer cells. Galizia hopes that this finding can help create device that can determine cancer quickly and non-invasively.

"The high sensitivity of the natural olfactory receptors, paired with the quickness with which we can generate these test results, might lead to the development of a cheap, fast and highly-efficient pre-screening that can detect cancer cells well before we can discover them with the present diagnostic imaging techniques," Galizia said.

The finding has been published in the international scientific journal Scientific Report.


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