Cancer-Sniffing Worm-On-A-Chip for Lung Cancer Detection 


Scientists are using a device employing living worms (nematodes) of the C. elegans species as a biometric device for lung cancer detection. Known as the ‘worm-on-a-chip’, the device tracks the worms’ movements toward odor molecules produced by lung cancer cells. Researchers from Myongji University in South Korea presented their…work at this week’s spring conference of the American Chemical Society.

“Lung cancer cells produce a different set of odor molecules than normal cells,” said principal investigator Shin Sik Choi, Ph.D., of the Department of Energy Science and Technology, and the Department of Food and Nutrition at Myongji University in Korea, in a statement. “It’s well known that the soil-dwelling nematode, C. elegans, is attracted or repelled by certain odors, so we came up with an idea that the roundworm could be used to detect lung cancer…”

Based on their current nematode study in lung cancer, Choi and Jang estimated that the device was about 70% effective at detecting cancer cells in diluted cell culture media. They hope to improve sensitivity of the device by using of worms previously exposed to cancer cell media that would have a “memory” of cancer-specific odor molecules. Once the team has optimized the worm-on-a-chip for detecting cultured lung cancer cells, they plan to move on to testing urine, saliva or even exhaled breath from people for other cancer types.

Modern science doesn’t always require modern raw materials, eh?

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