Tech

A locust’s brain has been hacked to sniff out human cancer


In any case, animals are thought to sense chemicals that humans release through body odor or breath. The combination of chemicals can change depending on a person’s metabolism, which is said to change when we are sick. But dogs are expensive to train and care for. Debajit Saha, one of the scientists behind building a device that mimics a dog’s nose, has proven extremely difficult to implement. latest jobhas not yet been peer-reviewed.

“These changes are almost in parts per trillion,” said Saha, a neuroengineer at Michigan State University. This makes them difficult to catch even with modern technologies, he adds. But animals have evolved to explain such subtle changes in scent. So he and his colleagues decided to “appropriate” an animal brain instead.

Look at the steady head of the grasshopper

COURSE OF RESEARCH

The researchers chose to work with locusts because the insect has been thoroughly studied in recent years. In a preliminary setting, they surgically exposed the brain of a living grasshopper. Then, Saha and his colleagues inserted electrodes into the lobes of the brain that receive signals from the insect’s antennae, which they use to sense odors.

The team also grew three different types of oral cancer cells, as well as human oral cells without cancer. They used a device to capture the gas emitted by each cell type, and deliver each of these cells to the antennae of the grasshopper.

The brains of grasshoppers respond to different types of cells. The patterns of electrical activity recorded were so distinct that when the team blew air from a type of cell onto an antenna, they were able to pinpoint whether the cell was cancerous or not just from the recordings. .

This is the first time that a live insect brain has been tested as a tool to detect cancer, Saha said.

Natalie Plank, who is developing nanomaterials-based health sensors at Victoria University, Wellington in New Zealand, thinks the work is “super cool”. “The potential of being able to breathe in something and then find out if you’re at risk for cancer… is really powerful,” she says.

In the experiment, the team recorded brains from multiple grasshoppers and combined their responses. Currently, it needs recordings from 40 neurons to get a clear signal, which means the system requires six to 10 locust brains. But Saha hopes to be able to use electrodes that can record from more neurons, which will allow him to obtain recordings from the brain of a single grasshopper. He also hopes to be able to use the brain and beard in a mobile device, which can then be tested on real people.



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