(PCM) Scientists have now discovered a way to teach pigeons to detect certain types of cancer. According to CNN.com, the birds offer great potential as testers of cancer detection technology and as a help in doctor training. It turns out that they are fantastic detectives.
Research indicated that pigeons have much better eye sight than humans and are able to see more wavelengths of light than the human eye. They are able to use visual clues to place various objects in to categories, as well as, learn the letters of the alphabet and recognize individuals even if they are wearing different clothing.
Dr. Richard Levenson of the University of California-Davis medical center decided to further explore the pigeons abilities and see if the birds would be able to learn the art of pathology which consists of mostly visual recall.
CNN.com goes on to explain, for the experiment, eight birds were placed in a high-tech box in which they were shown an image a scientist would see under the microscope, along with two boxes. The slides showed relatively straightforward images of cancer cells, and cells that are not cancerous, from actual breast tissue samples. The scientists trained the birds to peck at one box if the sample was malignant, the other if it was benign. The birds trained with 144 images at different magnifications and each got a pellet when it pecked at the box with the right answer.
The birds were trained for a period of 15 days and they were able to tell the difference in tissues even with images they had never seen previously. Collectively the pigeons got the answer right about 85% of the time. The study is a huge innovation in the medical community, but don’t expect pigeons to be replacing doctors in radiology labs anytime soon. It is the hope that with this study that there might perhaps be a way to hone in on the pigeons skills and use them as a teaching tool to help students and doctors with areas that they may be struggling with in making a diagnosis.