Are pigeons the new tool in the fight against cancer?
‘Pigeons share many visual system properties with humans’; therefore they made the perfect study animal for research carried out by the University of California. New research is forever coming to light about the intelligence of birds, and it seems this is no different. Pigeons (Columba livia) may have some use to the medical community, as observers of medical images.
The team of scientists used food reinforcement and conditioning to show pigeons had an amazing ability to distinguish between benign and malignant human breast histopathology. This means they are able to detect cancerous tissue by looking at patient x-rays.
The pigeons in the study were able to pick out the affected breast tissue with a 99% accuracy, which has huge implications for medical research. A sample size of eight pigeons were used and shown 144 breast tissue images, each differing in level of magnification, the pigeons could then use their beaks to point at a blue or yellow button to show if they thought it was cancerous or non-cancerous. If they were correct, they were rewarded with food. If they were not correct, the image would continue to be shown until they made the right choice. Only then were they rewarded with food.
The pigeons in the study were able to pick out the affected breast tissue with a 99% accuracy, which has huge implications for medical research.
Training the pigeons to an 85% accuracy took just 15 days. Could we be seeing a flock of pigeons in the hospital any time soon? Possibly not. However the results go to show the millions of years of evolution have done them some justice.
Studies in the past have shown pigeons are able to distinguish between letters of the alphabet, recognise human faces and their own faces on video, and use touchscreens in intelligence tests.
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