Saturday, November 21, 2015

Animal trainers not doctors

Okay, this is getting to be a bit too much. I'm sorry but cancer detection by animals? Well, birds too.

This all seems to be going on in the UK. First of all, pigeons are being trained to read breast cancer imaging to diagnose breast cancer. Yes you read that right. Pigeons. You know the 'rats with wings' (as I call them) that populate many cities.

"Pigeons, with training, did just as well as humans in a study testing their ability to distinguish cancerous from healthy breast tissue samples."

I am so happy to hear that we no longer need radiologists to read our mammograms for breast cancer diagnoses. Instead of 3 years of medical school and four years of a radiology residency, we can have pigeons trained for a few weeks who can spend their lives reading mammograms.

"After two weeks of training, the pigeons reached a level of 85% accuracy. Because they successfully identified cancerous tissue from images they had not seen before, the researchers ruled out rote-learning of the images as an explanation."

Talk about a birdbrain.

Next we have dogs who sniff out cancer. I have heard of this before. We have Lucy's story. She failed guide dog school so her owners thought they should try medical detection instead.

"For the next seven years, Lucy learned to sniff out bladder, kidney and prostate cancer, and was even used in a study. Over the years, she has been able to detect cancer correctly more than 95% of the time. That's better than some lab tests used to diagnose cancer.

Now, Lucy is part of one of the largest clinical trials of canine cancer detection. A British organization, Medical Detection Dogs, has eight dogs sniff out 3,000 urine samples from National Health Service patients to see whether they can discern who has cancer and who doesn't."

Is this a good use of our medical research dollars? I am not so sure. I know people claim their dogs have sniffed out their cancer or stay very close when they are sick but again I do not think a dog is good substitute for a doctor. This research may make us think we need more animal trainers instead of doctors.

You think I make this stuff up? You can read about it the pigeons and the dogs.

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