93% Accuracy: Israeli Startup Taught Rats to Detect Lung Cancer by Smell Urine
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Early, a startup that raised $6.2 million last year, hopes rats trained with its patented system will be used around the world to process samples, that people can provide from the comfort of their own home.
“We train the rats and then they are placed in a capsule next to a platform that looks like a conveyor belt”, – explained the founder and CEO of the company, Dr. Michal Mark Danieli. “The urine cartridge comes in, the rats hear the beep and know to stick their head into the cartridge to sniff. If the rat pulls its head out, it is a sign that the sample does not contain lung cancer, and if it holds its head, it means that the person who submitted the sample has lung cancer.
The accuracy score means that 93 out of 100 rat samples are correctly diagnosed as having lung cancer. Rats are as accurate as low-dose radiation CT scans now being used to screen for lung cancer. Because a urine sample can be taken at home and mailed for processing, screening can be quicker and easier. As with a CT scan, people with suspected lung cancer will be referred for further testing, such as a biopsy.< br />
The startup capitalizes on the fact that cancerous tumors have their own odors, and rats have a high ability to detect odors.
“Our research has detected lung cancer so far, and we expect to continue to detect various cancer types with high accuracy. This may become a common testing method”, – says Danieli. “By providing easy access to early diagnosis, more cancer can be detected in the first stage, when it is most treatable.”
The startup regularly receives urine samples from five Israeli hospitals and two facilities in Korea, samples for testing will soon begin to arrive from New York and London. The company's lead zoologist, Dr. Itay Berger, said the training system lasts four months and uses two key qualities of rats.
“Rats have 40% more receptor genes smell than dogs”,– he said. “But besides their amazing sense of smell, rats are very smart and learn very quickly”.
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