Olfactory detection of toluene by detection rats for potential screening of lung cancer

Yunkwang Oh, Oh Seok Kwon, Sun Seek Min, Yong Beom Shin, Min Kyu Oh, Moonil Kim

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Citations (Scopus)


Early detection is critical to successfully eradicating a variety of cancers, so the development of a new cancer primary screening system is essential. Herein, we report an animal nose sensor system for the potential primary screening of lung cancer. To establish this, we developed an odor discrimination training device based on operant conditioning paradigms for detection of toluene, an odor indicator component of lung cancer. The rats (N = 15) were trained to jump onto a floating ledge in response to toluene-spiked breath samples. Twelve rats among 15 trained rats reached performance criterion in 12 consecutive successful tests within a given set, or over 12 sets, with a success rate of over 90%. Through a total of 1934 tests, the trained rats (N = 3) showed excellent performance for toluene detection with 82% accuracy, 83% sensitivity, 81% specificity, 80% positive predictive value (PPV) and 83% negative predictive value (NPV). The animals also acquired considerable performance for odor discrimination even in rigorous tests, validating odor specificity. Since environmental and long-term stability are important factors that can influence the sensing results, the performance of the trained rats was studied under specified temperature (20, 25, and 30C) and humidity (30%, 45%, and 60% RH) conditions, and monitored over a period of 45 days. At given conditions of temperature and humidity, the animal sensors showed an average accuracy within a deviation range of ±10%, indicating the excellent environmental stability of the detection rats. Surprisingly, the trained rats did not differ in retention of last odor discrimination when tested 45 days after training, denoting that the rats’ memory for trained odor is still available over a long period of time. When taken together, these results indicate that our odor discrimination training system can be useful for non-invasive breath testing and potential primary screening of lung cancer.

Original languageEnglish
Article number2967
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - 2021 May 1

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 by the authors. Licensee MDPI, Basel, Switzerland.


  • Animal nose
  • Detection rat
  • Odor detection
  • Olfactory behavior

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Analytical Chemistry
  • Information Systems
  • Instrumentation
  • Atomic and Molecular Physics, and Optics
  • Electrical and Electronic Engineering
  • Biochemistry


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