Roundworm infestation in humans can be pretty nasty. But a particular case prompted researchers to dig a little deeper- they found a 63-year-old man with these parasites, and he had a stomach lesion that the worms seemed particularly interested in. The worms attached themselves to this lesion, which turned out to be the early stages of gastric cancer. This led these researchers to wonder: can worms sniff out cancer? (And I’ll bet it’s leading you to wonder: Where does the pee come in??)
We’ll get to that. But first… how do you figure out what a worm’s thinking? Well, to test WHY the worms were attracted to the cancerous lesion, they put these worms (C. elegans) into petri dishes with cancer cells on one side and normal culture medium on the other. The worms were attracted to the cancer cells. When they tempted the worms with normal skin cells, they didn’t seem interested. And, when they blocked the neurons that are responsible for the worms’ sense of smell, there was no reaction to the cancer cells, leading the researchers to conclude that the worms were actually attracted to the odor of the cancer cells.
The worms were then put to the test. Urine samples from patients with and without cancer were placed near the worms, and the worms were attracted to the urine samples that came from patients with cancer! Their success rate was 96%, and they successfully identified nine different types of cancer.
Worms sniffing out cancer in your pee – seems kind of strange, so why are scientists doing it? Well, the hope is that these worms could help determine specific differences in odors from different types of cancers and potentially help researchers develop a diagnostic test that could detect early stages of cancer in humans. Pretty cool for a worm, huh? Read more about it hereW.