According to The Asahi Shimbun, just a drop of urine is enough for roundworms to sniff out human cancers using a state-of-the-art screening machine developed by electronics giant Hitachi Ltd.
The new equipment that automates the test process is expected to allow people to get accurate results at a relatively low price when they undergo a cancer screening test.
The machine was unveiled April 18 and is scheduled to be put into practical use by 2020 under a joint research development agreement signed between Hitachi and Hirotsu Bio Science Inc., a bio venture company headed by Takaaki Hirotsu.
Hirotsu, assistant professor of Kyushu University, discovered that wormlike nematodes, which have receptors to sense odors, were attracted to the smell of cancer in urine with an accuracy rate of 95.8 percent.
In the new test, called Nematode Scent Detection Test, about 50 to 100 one-millimeter long roundworms were placed in the middle of an assay plate.
Shortly after a researcher placed sample drops of a cancer patient's urine at the edge of the plate, the roundworms started to head off toward them.
On the other hand, the worms moved away from the urine of a healthy person.
The fact that these nematode creatures also responded to the urine of early-stage cancer patients was reported in an article published in the U.S. online journal Plos One in 2015 by Hirotsu.
In the current manual screening method, an examiner can only examine samples of three to five persons a day.
With the new automated technology, a large number of patients can be assessed in a day.
If the machine is put to practical use, people could undergo the cancer screening for just several thousand yen.
Roundworms come cheap and are easy to breed.
"We expect new business to be generated by information obtained through the joint research," said Norihito Kuno, senior researcher of the Center for Exploratory Research of Hitachi.
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