Skip to main content

Pigeon vision: ‘flocksourcing’ cancer detection

Researchers are learning more about how to improve cancer
detection through teaching pigeons like the two above
to identify images of cancerous cells.
Pigeons have been taught how to detect breast cancer -- with an accuracy rate that surpasses humans -- and in the process have inspired ideas about how to better teach humans how to visually detect cancer.

Researchers from the University of California Davis, the University of Iowa, and Emory University published a paper last month detailing how they trained pigeons -- Columba livia, commonly called rock doves, to be precise -- to detect cancerous cells. The birds attained an accuracy rate of 85%, higher than the accuracy of humans doing the task (84%), the Chicago Tribune reported. (Also see the Wall Street Journal for more coverage.)

And when four pigeons were tested on the image and their results combined (“flocksourcing”?), the birds were 99% accurate in identifying cancerous cells.

The researchers also found that while the pigeons had high-accuracy results when looking at slides from tissue samples, they were not able to learn how to accurately identify signs of cancer when looking at mammograms. Unlike biopsied cells viewed under magnification, mammogram images show neighboring tissues such as blood vessels, a factor which affects human accuracy as well.

Because a pigeon’s vision works much the same as a human’s, the research could help scientists improve the results in teaching humans how to visually identify cancer.

“Pathologists and radiologists spend years acquiring and refining their medically essential visual skills, so it is of considerable interest to understand how this process actually unfolds and what image features and properties are critical for accurate diagnostic performance,” the researchers wrote in their article in PLoS ONE.

The research team included Edward Wasserman, Stuit Professor of Experimental Psychology at the University of Iowa; Elizabeth Krupinksi, professor and Vice Chair for Research in the Department of Radiology and Imaging Sciences at Emory University; Richard Levenson, professor and Vice Chair for Strategic Technologies in the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine at the University of California Davis Medical Center; and Victor Navarro, a graduate student in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences at the University of Iowa.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

#FacesofPhotonics: Rising Researcher Alina Zare

SPIE's #FacesofPhotonics is sharing the story of Alina Zare, Associate Professor at the The Machine Learning and Sensing Lab at the University of Florida. Dr. Zare was recognized as a 2018 Rising Researcher for her work in Electronic Imaging & Signal Processing, at the SPIE Defense + Commercial Sensing conference.

This program recognizes early career professionals who conduct outstanding research in the defense, commercial, and scientific sensing, imaging, optics, or related fields. If you want to learn more about the program, the details are here.

Enjoy the interview with Alina!

1. Tell us about when you first became interested in optics and photonics. In my senior year of  undergraduate studies in computer science, I was taking an Image Processing elective.  I really enjoyed the course, and the professor for the class, Dr. Gerhard Ritter, encouraged me to do some undergraduate research.  
So I joined Dr. Paul Gader's research lab as a undergraduate researcher where I he…

#FacesofPhotonics: Optimax Director of Technology and Strategy, Jessica DeGroote Nelson

SPIE Senior Member Jessica DeGroote Nelson works as the director of technology and strategy at Optimax Systems in Ontario, New York. She also teaches as an adjunct assistant professor at The Institute of Optics at the University of Rochester (UR), and is a Conference Chair for SPIE Optifab 2019. 
This year at SPIE Optics + Photonics in San Diego, Nelson will be teaching Optical Materials, Fabrication, and Testing for the Optical Engineer. This course is geared toward optical engineers who are hoping to learn the basics about how optics are made, and ways in which to help reduce the cost of the optics they are designing. 
"Optical tolerancing and the cost to fabricate an optic can be a point of tension or confusion between optical designers and optical fabricators," Nelson says. "I teach this course to help give optical designers who are new to the field a few tools in their toolbelt as they navigate tolerancing and purchasing some of their first designs. One of the thi…

#FacesofPhotonics: Photovoltaics PhD Student Arfa Karani

Meet this week's SPIE Faces of Photonics feature, Arfa Karani. Arfa is a physics PhD student at the University of Cambridge, studying the physics of solar cells. She is originally from India, but has lived outside her home country for many years while pursuing her education. 

Arfa was also President of the SPIE Student Chapter at the University of Cambridge in 2017-18, and continues to remain involved with the chapter when she's not hard at work in the university's Cavendish Lab.


Enjoy her interview!




1. How did you become interested in the optics and photonics field? Was there a person who inspired you?

My physics teacher at school inspired me. I got interested in studying optics because my curiosity was satisfied by this teacher, who was extremely enthusiastic about what they did. When you ask too many questions as a child, people try to divert your attention once they are tired of answering. Not this teacher.

I know it’s a bit cliché, but I was amazed by how one could cre…