Mantis shrimps’ eyes may become the newest weapon against cancer – their unique vision is being replicated for use in cancer-diagnostic cameras
Inspired by mantis shrimps’ ability to detect polarized light, scientists have developed a cancer-diagnostic camera that views the world like the pesky crustacean.
According to Professor Justin Marshall from the Queensland Brain Institute at the University of Queensland, they can use mantis shrimps’ detection abilities specifically “to design cameras to look for polarization contrasts and it turns out that one of the things that do contrast in polarization is cancerous cells.”
The University of Queensland recently conducted research that found that mantis shrimps are able to detect cancer due to their compound eyes. Their unique eye structure is very sensitive to polarized light, which reflects differently depending on the type of tissue it hits, including cancerous tissue. This type of light also identifies the activity of neurons, where it can visualize brain activity.
Part of the reason that humans can’t see these differences in light is because they are color-centric animals, according to Dr. Marshall. On the other hand, animals like mantris shrimps detect visual differences from distinctions in light polarity. He claims that light polarity detection is like “seeing the invisible,” and is crucial for future diagnosis.
“The camera that we’ve developed in close collaboration with US and UK scientists shoots video and could provide immediate feedback on detecting cancer and monitoring the activity of exposed nerve cells. It converts the invisible messages into colors that our visual system is comfortable with,” Professor Marshall said in a statement.
Dr. Marshall aims to use the new technology to improve existing polarized light detection methods, which are already in use to detect cancer, but their limitations tend to be significant and they’re not as advanced as this new “inspired by shrimp” technology is. The camera is being developed with the help of funding from the Australian Research Council, the Asian Office of Aerospace Research and Development, and the US Airforce Office of Scientific Research.
Could we use the “shrimp eyes” at home?
Theoretically, the “mantis shrimp cancer detector” could play a major role in helping doctors and patients detect cancer early so that it can be treated as soon as possible. The end game could actually include getting these cameras into smartphones, which would allow people to scan themselves for cancer privately – in the comfort of one’s home – and reduce the burden on healthcare systems. Now that would be cool.
The research was published on IEEE.
Photo Credit: Shutterstock/Mantis shrimp