At last year’s Dutch Design Week in Eindhoven, Portuguese designer Susana Soares presented a device that can detect cancer and other diseases using honey bees. Known for their extraordinary sense of smell, bees can detect airborne molecules in the parts per trillion range and can be trained to recognize certain smells associated with diseases such as lung, skin and pancreatic cancer, as well as tuberculosis.
The device is made out of two chambers. The smaller enclosure is a kind of diagnosis space into which people exhale. The previously trained bees, which are kept in the larger chamber, rush into the smaller one if they sense an odor they were trained to recognize. The outer curved tube is used to keep the bees away from the interior chamber. Once a person exhales, the breath becomes visible through condensation.
The bees can be trained in only 10 minutes suing Pavlov’s reflex, which connects certain odors with food reward. Once the bees are exposed to it, they are fed a solution of sugar and water-a reward that they remember throughout their entire six-week-long lives.
Scientists have established that bees can accurately diagnose early stages of certain diseases. The bees are particularly sensitive to pheromones from apocrine glands, which contain information about a person’s health. In medicine, bees are used for screening tests and as biosensors.