Early detection and treatment are of vital importance to the successful eradication of various cancers, and development of economical and non-invasive novel cancer screening systems is critical. Previous reports using canine scent detection demonstrated the existence of cancer-specific odours. However, it is difficult to introduce canine scent recognition into clinical practice because of the need to maintain accuracy. In this study, we developed a Nematode Scent Detection Test (NSDT) using Caenorhabditis elegans to provide a novel highly accurate cancer detection system that is economical, painless, rapid and convenient. We demonstrated wild-type C. elegans displayed attractive chemotaxis towards human cancer cell secretions, cancer tissues and urine from cancer patients but avoided control urine; in parallel, the response of the olfactory neurons of C. elegans to the urine from cancer patients was significantly stronger than to control urine. In contrast, G protein α mutants and olfactory neurons-ablated animals were not attracted to cancer patient urine, suggesting that C. elegans senses odours in urine. We tested 242 samples to measure the performance of the NSDT, and found the sensitivity was 95.8%; this is markedly higher than that of other existing tumour markers. Furthermore, the specificity was 95.0%. Importantly, this test was able to diagnose various cancer types tested at the early stage (stage 0 or 1). To conclude, C. elegans scent-based analyses might provide a new strategy to detect and study disease-associated scents.
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