The World Bank very recently held a contest to award innovative ideas for fighting poverty. One of the winning ideas involved the use of rats to smell and detect disease:
One of the winners was a scheme to use rats as a cheap diagnostic tool for tuberculosis in Tanzania.
Rats are already being used by the Apopo organisation to detect landmines in Mozambique using their acute sense of smell.
Apopo’s Bart Weetjens told BBC News Online that the rats could also be trained to sniff out TB from saliva samples.
A group of rat detectives could process more than 2,000 samples a day compared with just 20 for a human technician with microscope, he said. Using a set of rats should mean 100% accuracy and a quick diagnosis, he added.
“The TB problem in Tanzania is very widespread… but when it’s detected early it can be treated and it makes a big difference.”
To read about the other winning ideas, click here for a BBC news report.