Turns out pigeons can detect cancer

Turns out pigeons can detect cancer
A pigeon being trained to screen images of benign and malignant breast tissue by pecking blue or yellow choice buttons in return for a food reward (Picture: PA)

Pigeons can now detect cancer.

The birds have been trained in spotting the signs of breast cancer using biopsy samples and mammogram scans.

Scientists taught the pigeons to identify the difference between benign and malignant tissue using food rewards.

Eight pigeons were trained to peck either a blue or yellow ‘report button’ depending on whether the image was benign or malignant. They were rewarded if they were correct.

Lead researcher Professor Richard Levenson, from the University of California at Davis, US, said: ‘With some training and selective food reinforcement, pigeons do just as well as humans in categorising digitised slides and mammograms of benign and malignant human breast tissue.

‘The birds were remarkably adept at discriminating between benign and malignant breast cancer slides at all magnifications, a task that can perplex inexperienced human observers, who typically require considerable training to attain mastery.

‘Pigeons’ accuracy from day one of training at low magnification increased from 50 per cent correct to nearly 85 per cent correct at days 13 to 15.’

They were also as good as human radiologists at detecting microscopic calcification spots on mammograms that can be an early sign of cancer.

Pigeons have a brain no bigger than the tip of an index finger, but possess neural pathways strikingly similar to those at work in the human brain, said the scientists.

Scientists hope this could be the first step in using pigeons to help with new diagnostic processes.

The findings appear in the online journal Public Library of Science ONE.

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18 November 2015 | 7:00 pm – Source: metro.co.uk


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