Researchers use fruit flies to detect cancer cells

Using the olfactory senses of the Drosophilae, researchers observed the neural patterns associated with detection of healthy cells and cancer cells.

By Ananth Baliga

Fruit flies have been used by researchers to detect cancer cells just by their smell, and not only can they distinguish them from healthy cells, they can also differentiate between different types of cancer cells.

Researchers at the University of Konstanz, led by Dr. Giovanni Galizia, published their findings in the journal Scientific Report, where they devised a method to use the olfactory senses of the transgenic Drosophilae to differentiate between healthy and cancer cells.


When a particular kind of odor molecule settles on the antennae of the fly, it sets of a chain reaction of receptor neurons reacting to the new stimulus. Using an imaging technique they were able to able to observe the different patterns of these activated neurons, which would fluoresce under a microscope.

Researchers tested this technique using five different breast cancer cells and compared them to healthy cells, and found different neural patterns associated with the healthy cells and cancer cells.

"As not only cancer cells can be distinguished from healthy cells, but also subgroups were discernible within the cancer cells, it seems that even different types of breast cancer cells can be differentiated via the antenna of Drosophila," said Alja Lüdke, a member of the research team at the university.


Earlier research has shown that natural olfactory senses are are the best suited to detect small differences in smells as compared to using electronic substitutes.

"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," said Giovanni Galizia.

[University of Konstanz] [Scientific Reports]

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