A study published in the journal iScience showed that ants are more effective than dogs at sniffing out human cancer cells.

The French newspaper, Le Parisien, said in a report that ants can be trained to sniff out human cancerous cells like dogs, but more quickly, according to a study that suggests focusing on this pathway for early detection of tumors.

Recent experiments have shown that dogs have a sense of smell capable of detecting the olfactory signature of some cancerous tumors that emit volatile organic compounds that humans cannot smell.

"This method requires long-term training of between 6 months and a year for each dog," said Baptiste Beckery, lead author of the study, which was published this week in the journal iScience. Expensive because it needs tens of thousands of euros."

The ants underwent learning protocols that associate smell with a reward, using a drop of sugar-sweetened water (websites).

For this reason, an animal behaviorist from l'Université Sorbonne Paris Nord decided to conduct an experiment with ants known for their strong sense of smell that they use in various daily tasks, not to mention their speed of learning.

Learning in a few hours

In collaboration with scientists from the French National Center for Scientific Research, the French Institute Curie and the National Institute of Health and Medical Research, Beckerie selected Formica fusca, which is among the most common and widespread ant species in the northern hemisphere, and not an endangered species. in France.

The insects were subjected to learning protocols that associate smell with a reward, in this case a drop of sugar water.

In the first training session, “the ant roamed freely and then came across a drop of sugar-sweetened water and while it was drinking it, it smelled (using its antennae) its environment saturated with a special smell.”

In the next step, the insect had to choose between an environment saturated with the acquired odor and one with a different odor without the water drop this time.

"If the ant has learned well, it will spend a lot of time near the scent associated with the drop of sweetened water, and circulate around it in search of the reward," Beckery explains.

Less than an hour was enough for ants to tell the difference between cancer subtypes (websites)

Upcoming clinical trials

These tests involved exposing the ants to the scent of healthy human cells and ovarian cancer cells, to see if the ants could distinguish between them.

Next, the experiment involved two breast cancer cells to see if the insects could differentiate between the two subtypes of cancers.

“We did 3 exercises of less than an hour each, and it was enough for the ants to tell the difference between these subtypes of cancer,” Beckery said. “The protocol is also very simple and does not require expensive equipment, as I tested it in my apartment during the spring 2020 quarantine.”

For his part, the French National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS) stressed - in a statement - that "the effectiveness of this method should be evaluated through clinical tests on humans."