UC Davis Study Finds Pigeons Can Spot Cancer Nearly At Same Level As Human Doctors

UC DAVIS (CBS13) — A new study at UC Davis shows how pigeons are able to detect cancer at about the same level as humans.

They aren’t the world’s favorite bird, but the research says the birds known for soiling cars can also accurately spot breast cancer.

UC Davis researcher Richard Levenson wondered how well pigeons could see cancerous cells in tissue samples. Teaming up with the University of Iowa, researchers put pigeons in a box and showed them a bunch of different slides.

“The pigeons were then asked with some encouragement, is this a cancer image or is this or a normal image,” he said.

If they guessed tapped on the right one with their beak, they got food. Levenson says eventually the birds were able to learn what cancerous cells looked like, because they wanted the food. Their accuracy was about the same as when human doctors looked at the images.

Levenson says pigeons are really quite smart.

“They can actually tell the difference between different French art, modern artists like Picasso, Matisse,” he said.

Levinson says his pigeon research could help humans learn how to study cancer cell slides better in the future.

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