Using Rats to Sniff Out TB

Posted on September 1, 2016  Comments (2)

Apopo’s African giant pouched rats are being used to sniff out mines and TB

In the face of what the World Health Organisation is calling a global TB epidemic, an innovative tech startup named Apopo is attempting to reverse the harrowing statistics, using rodents to sniff out TB in cough and spit samples.

No ordinary lab rats, Apopo’s African giant pouched rats – affectionately named HeroRats – are extremely sensitive to smell, with more genetic material allocated to olfaction than any other mammal species. They are also highly social animals, and can be trained to communicate with humans.

I have written about these wonderful rats previously, Appropriate Technology: Rats Helping Humans by Sniffing Out Land Mines. As I have stated many time I especially enjoy engineering solutions that use affordable and effective methods to help everyone.

Photo of Hero-rat detecting TB in Mozambique with Apopo staff person

Hero-rat detecting TB in Mozambique

A DNA-screening device that takes up to two hours to analyse each individual sample with 95pc accuracy costs $17,000 and thousands more in upkeep. By contrast, a HeroRat costs $6,500 to train, can probe through hundreds of samples every hour [70-85% accuracy rate], and requires only food, water and cages for shelter.

Keep these innovations coming. The USA needs them also given the massively costly healthcare system in the USA.

The TB sniffing rat program was developed through Apopo in Tanzania.

Related: Rats Show Empathy-driven BehaviorBeehive Fence Protects Farms from ElephantsTuberculosis Risk (2007)Dangerous Drug-Resistant Strains of TB are a Growing Threat (2012)

2 Responses to “Using Rats to Sniff Out TB”

  1. Conrad
    September 8th, 2016 @ 2:16 pm

    The success numbers in the original article speaks volumes about what these rats can do in low income countries over the course of time. The cost of medical care really does hinder these countries in a way we don’t seem to think about often here in the United States. By having a rat do the diagnosing at a fraction of the cost of machines, one would think that those funds saved could be used for the treatment of the patient.

  2. MIT
    October 15th, 2016 @ 6:16 am

    I’ve heard of animals being used to sniff out cancer before, but I’ve never heard of them being used to sniff out landmines. Thanks for sharing!

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