Fruit Flies Can Detect Cancer Cells and Differentiate Subgroups via Olfactory Sense; Related Fluorescent System May Provide Early Cancer Screening Tool

A research unit in an international cooperation project led by the University of Konstanz (Germany)-based neurobiologist and zoologist Professor Dr. Giovanni Galizia, has been the first to demonstrate that fruit flies are able to distinguish cancer cells from healthy cells via their olfactory sense. In an article, published on January 6, 2014 in an open-access article in the international scientific journal "Scientific Reports" by the Nature Publishing Group, researchers of the University of Konstanz and the University La Sapienza in Rome, Italy, describe how characteristic patterns in the olfactory receptors of transgenic Drosophilae can be recorded when activated by scent. Not only could a clear distinction be made between healthy cells and cancer cells; moreover, groupings could be identified among the different cancer cells. "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," explains Dr. Galizia. Natural olfactory systems are better suited to detecting the very small differences in scent between healthy cells and cancer cells. This fact has already been shown in experiments with dogs; however, these results are not objectifiable and are thus not applicable for a systematic medical diagnosis. The researchers from Konstanz and Rome used the fact that single odorant molecules dock to the receptor neurons of the flies' antenna and thus activate the neurons. In an imaging technique developed by the researchers, the different odorant molecules of the respective scent samples create different patterns of activated neurons, which fluoresce under the microscope when active, thanks to a genetic modification.
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