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.