Study finds pigeons uncommonly good at distinguishing cancerous from normal breast tissue
Date: November 18, 2015
Source: University of Iowa
If pigeons went to medical school and specialized in pathology or radiology, they'd be pretty good at distinguishing digitized microscope slides and mammograms of normal from cancerous breast tissue, according to a new study from the University of Iowa and the University of California, Davis.
With some training and selective food reinforcement, pigeons performed as well as humans in categorizing digitized slides and mammograms of benign and malignant human breast tissue, the researchers found. The pigeons were able to generalize what they had learned, so that when the researchers showed them a completely new set of normal and cancerous digitized slides, they correctly identified them. Their accuracy, like that of humans, was modestly affected by the presence or absence of color in the images, as well as by degrees of image compression. The pigeons also learned to correctly identify cancer-relevant micro calcifications on mammograms, but they had a tougher time classifying suspicious masses on mammograms -- a task considered difficult even for skilled human observers, the authors noted in the paper, published online on Wednesday in the journal PLOS One.
"These results go a long way toward establishing a profound link between humans and our animal kin," said Edward Wasserman, professor of psychological and brain sciences at the UI and study co-author. "Even distant relatives -- like people and pigeons -- are adept at perceiving and categorizing the complex visual patterns that are presented in pathology and radiology images, surely a task for which nature has not specifically prepared us."