What can bees teach us about cancer?

Robin Foster and Sue Hannaford

University of Puget Sound,
Departments of Psychology and Biology

Honeybees have a highly developed sense of smell. They rely on chemical cues to find pollen and nectar as well as to distinguish between members of their own hive and intruders and even to detect parasitic mites in sealed brood cells. Studies on the olfactory system of honeybees have shown that bees can detect a broad spectrum of chemicals, including compounds ranging from 4 to more than 20 carbons in length and including alcohols, ketone, and aldehyde groups as chemical moieties. In this seminar we present a potential new use for this broad chemical sensitivity - detecting the chemical compounds that serve as a signature for cancer. We show that honeybees can rapidly learn to discriminate between pooled urine samples from women with ovarian cancer and from cancer-free patients. We will also present pilot data suggesting that bees trained in this task may be able to detect cancer in other urine samples.