Finding the cure and developing better treatments for cancer has been on the agenda of medical professionals and researchers for quite some time now. Despite earlier diagnoses to less aggressive chemotherapy, the fight to cure cancer has not been an easy one, and lately doctors seem to be taking a less conventional approach in their research in hopes of finding more concrete results.
According to a report published Wednesday in the science journal PLOS One, pigeons could soon be playing a significant role in this fight. After a recent study, pathologists and radiologists were amazed to find that after only a couple weeks of training, these birds can identify a malignant tumor in a mammogram scan as accurately as humans. Although it seems like a strange approach, pigeons have a lot of visual system properties in common with humans, which is what inspired the study.
“Pigeons’ sensitivity to diagnostically salient features in medical images suggest that they can provide reliable feedback on many variables at play in the production, manipulation, and viewing of these diagnostically crucial tools, and can assist researchers and engineers as they continue to innovate,” Richard Levenson, the leader of this study and a professor at the University of California, Davis, said in a statement.
The study consisted of training 16 pigeons to peck colored buttons according to the diagnosis, then rewarding them with food for correct answers. Beginning with a 50 percent accuracy rate in distinguishing between benign and malignant breast tissue at the start of the study, after 25 days the pigeons were correct 90 percent of the time. Unlike doctors who go through extensive training in college and medical school to even begin to understand and build their visual skills in order to identify masses in scans, the pigeons learned extremely quickly, and it is likely that they will soon be used as “surrogate observers” in the medical field.
“Pigeons may not be able to write poetry, but they’ve had millions of years to develop the abilities that they need to navigate a very complicated and dangerous world,” Levenson told the Smithsonian.
Not only are pigeons as accurate as humans, they also face the same problems and make the same type of mistakes as pathologists and radiologists deal with everyday. The fact of the matter is that these birds have shown significant potential in aiding researchers with making advancements in breast cancer diagnosis. Also, the major success displayed by this study has inspired others of the same kind. For example, the NHS is currently training dogs to identify prostate cancer in urine.
This groundbreaking medical advancement has introduced a whole new species to the field of medical research, which might be just what the field needed to finally find a cure for this terrible disease.