Photo: Nari Jang
Scientists at Myongji University in South Korea have found that roundworms can sniff out cancer as they are attracted to the distinctive smell of the cancer cells.
The scientists assembled a “worm on a chip” device that could help doctors detect cancer early, noninvasively, and cheaply.
Doctors currently use imaging tests or biopsies to diagnose lung cancer, but these methods are typically unable to detect cancerous tumors at the early stages. Early detection could mean a better chance at treatment, but it is not possible with just imaging tests or biopsies.
Dogs have previously been observed to be capable of sniffing out cancer in human breath, sweat, urine, and stools, but trained dogs are in short supply and are not exactly the best companion in a laboratory.
To solve this, researchers Nari Jang and Shin Sik Choi decided to use C. elegans worms, also known as nematodes. These worms measure around 1mm and have a heightened sense of smell.
Previous research has proven that the worms are attracted to urine from people with different kinds of cancer.
To test the worms, the group of scientists designed a chip with a well at each end. The ends are connected by channels to a central chamber and placed in a Petri dish.
A liquid containing lung cancer cells was dropped at one end and another with normal cells on the other. The worms were placed in the central chamber.
An hour later, it was observed that more worms had crawled toward the lung cancer cells.
The researchers estimated that the device was about 70 percent effective in detecting cancer cells.
These research findings were presented at a meeting of the American Chemical Society held in San Diego, California last Sunday.
The roundworms were attracted to the lung cancer cells due to the floral scent of the volatile organic compound called 2-ethyl-1-hexanol.
“We guess that the odors are similar to the scents from their favorite foods,” Jang said.
Jang and Choi are hopeful to make the test more accurate by training the worms to respond to the floral scent.
After perfecting the device, the researchers plan to test urine, saliva, and human breath on the worms.
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