Glass diagnostic tools use honey bees to sniff out cancer


December 1, 2013

Portuguese designer Susana Soares has created a series of glass diagnostic tools which incorporate trained honey bees to detect if a patient has cancer

Portuguese designer Susana Soares has created a series of glass diagnostic tools which incorporate trained honey bees to detect if a patient has cancer

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Portuguese designer Susana Soares has created a series of glass diagnostic tools which use trained honey bees to detect if a patient has cancer. The "Bees" project draws inspiration from research indicating that "sniffer bees" can be trained to detect specific odors such as explosives, or in Soares' case, cancer.

We've previously seen a similar idea where researchers used sniffer dogs to detect lung cancer and help develop a cancer-detecting electronic nose. And although bees can only be trained to detect a single odor, research by Inscentinel suggests that their abilities are just as good, if not better than their canine competitors.

"Bees have an acute sense of smell and can be employed as a flexible and rapid biosensor for biochemical molecular odor recognition," says Soares. "Bees can be easily trained to target a wide range of natural and man-made chemical odors including the biomarkers associated with certain diseases."

The bee training can take as little as ten minutes to complete, involving a simple process where the bees are taught to identify a specific odor by being rewarded with a water and sugar solution. The bees then associate that specific scent with food and will thus always seek it out in future experiments.

Soares' Bees project includes a series of glass diagnostic tools that feature a small internal chamber. When a patient blows into the apparatus the trained bees would immediately fly into the small chamber if the cancer odor was detected. The project is aimed at aiding current medical practices and to compliment diagnosis during the screening stage.

"One of the main aims of the project is to include highly sophisticated biological sensors in medical practices," Soares tells Gizmag. "I would like to see the tools being used in medical practices especially in developing countries as a cost effective screening test for, for example tuberculosis, malaria, dengue fever etc."

The Bees Project was presented last month during the Dutch Design Week 2013, which was held in Eindhoven.

Source: Susana Soares via Dezeen

About the Author
Bridget Borgobello Bridget is an experienced freelance writer, presenter and performer with a keen eye for innovative design and a passion for green technology. Australian born, Bridget currently resides in Rome and when not scribbling for Gizmag, she spends her time developing new web series content and independent cinema. All articles by Bridget Borgobello

The training takes only ten minutes, hmm, that is interesting.


I wonder what happens to the bees later, are they returned to a hive or just allowed to die? "We've got plenty of bees". If released to a hive, what happens if they encounter a beekeeper with cancer? A second thought - How fragile are those glass spheres? 3rd world countries where they might be most useful would be the harshest environment for them.

The Skud

The power of Bees, we take them for granted. They are as important as water !

Jay Finke

@Aurora - I bet bees are far more capable than originally thought - it seems that wasps are capable of recognizing individual members of their hive (from facial markings). Given a bee's short lifespan, 10 minutes might be equivalent to a year or more of human life.

@Skud - given bees don't live that long, I would think they would be enslaved to sniff for cancer until they die. And I disagree with your contention that this would be most useful in the 3rd world - I imagine that 1st world nations suffer more with cancer (as brought about by 1st world inventions like food additives etc.) and the discovery thereof is still costly.


I wonder if Dogs can do this also.

Betsy Shedd

Great idea!


The exploitation of biological life forms for or in research procedural practice, is not a moral consideration so long as any harmful affect to the life form is mitigated through an aspect of concern in the research methodology and conduction procedures.

Robert Gillis
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