Belgian non-governmental organization Apopo has been testing the African giant pouched rat as a pulmonary tuberculosis testing method in Tanzania, and the results have been so promising that the Mozambique government has asked Apopo to implement a similar project there, The Hindu reports.
The newspaper adds that Apopo has screened more than 97,000 samples in hospitals where the rats are being used as a secondary screening method, and detection rates have improved by 23 percent. In addition, the rats can screen about 1,680 samples each day, compared to 40 samples a day that a lab technician can perform using a microscope.
The African giant pouched rats — named for their paunchy cheek pouches — are only distantly related to true rats. They measure about nine to 18 inches in length and have tails about 14 to 18 inches in length. Apopo trained the animals to detect the tuberculosis bacteria, which produces distinctive organic compounds found in infected samples.
This isn't the first case of the animal kingdom being used to diagnose human disease. Dogs also are being trained to sniff out a variety of cancers, including lung cancer, breast cancer, and colon cancer.