Training pigeons to detect cancer

You are probably thinking, whose bird-brained idea was that?

Well, as it turns out, a new study published in PLOS ONE shows that pigeons can be trained to accurately differentiate cancerous versus healthy tissue biopsies. This is because the process of diagnosing cancer involves visual screening of MRIs an biopsies and pigeons use similar visual processing as humans. Moreover, according to the article, pigeons are able to learn and memorize over 2000 images, a skill that likely helps in identifying cancerous cells.

In a quote from Scientific American, study author Dr. Richard Levenson (University of California, Davis) said, “The birds might be able to assess the quality of new imaging techniques or methods of processing and displaying images without forcing humans to spend hours or days doing detailed comparisons to figure out if certain innovations are in fact better or worse than current methods.”


Levenson RM, Krupinski EA, Navarro VM, Wasserman EA. Pigeons (Columba livia) as Trainable Observers of Pathology and Radiology Breast Cancer Images. PLOS ONE. November 18, 2015. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0141357

Scientific American

Video from Youtube

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