For around a year now many researchers have been trying to train dogs to be able to sniff out cancer. Some experts say they have made great strides in this area.

The New York Times reports on the new developments.

Numerous researchers have come to the conclusion that dogs could be better at detecting cancer through human samples than blood tests.

For example the Times says,

“McBaine, a bouncy black and white springer spaniel, perks up and begins his hunt at the Penn Vet Working Dog Center. His nose skims 12 tiny arms that protrude from the edges of a table-size wheel, each holding samples of blood plasma, only one of which is spiked with a drop of cancerous tissue. The dog makes one focused revolution around the wheel before halting, steely-eyed and confident, in front of sample No. 11.”

One of the researchers assisting the dog then throws him a treat for his good deed and therefore gives him incentive to do it again. The dog gets a doggy food treat or tennis ball to happily play with around the room.

How many dogs have this ability?

“McBaine is one of four highly trained cancer detection dogs at the center, which trains purebreds to put their superior sense of smell to work in search of the early signs of ovarian cancer. Now, Penn Vet, part of the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Veterinary Medicine, is teaming with chemists and physicists to isolate cancer chemicals that only dogs can smell. They hope this will lead to the manufacture of nanotechnology sensors that are capable of detecting bits of cancerous tissue 1/100,000th the thickness of a sheet of paper,” according to The Times.

This research first began in 2004. It has truly come a long way since then.

The researchers who are devoted to it say that dogs could be regularly used in health settings to sniff out cancer soon. Dr. Otton, the founder and director of the Walking Dog Center, told The Times, “We don’t ever anticipate our dogs walking through a clinic. But we do hope that they will help refine chemical and nanosensing techniques for cancer detection.”

Are dogs able to help in any other medical capacity already? Dogs are already able to help with diabetic patients. They have been trained to respond to diabetic emergencies or alert passers by if an owner has a seizure.

“A study presented at the American Urological Association’s annual meeting in May reported that two German shepherds trained at the Italian Ministry of Defense’s Military Veterinary Center in Grosseto were able to detect prostate cancer in urine with about 98 percent accuracy, far better than the prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test,” according to The Times.

The Walking Dog Center is run by Dr. Otto. She trains the dogs in various areas such as bomb sniffing. But her current focus and interest lies in sniffing for cancer samples. The center’s newest canine curriculum, started last summer after the center received a grant from the Kaleidoscope of Hope Foundation, keeps their attention on sniffing out a different type of danger, ovarian cancer.

The Times reports,

“Dr. Otto said, ‘Ovarian cancer is a silent killer. But if we can help detect it early, that would save lives like nothing else’. Dr. Otto’s dogs are descended from illustrious lines of hunting hounds and police dogs, with noses and instincts that have been refined by generations of selective breeding. Labradors and German shepherds dominate the center, but the occasional golden retriever or springer spaniel — like McBaine — manages to make the cut.”

What are the dogs sensing or looking for?

Dr. Preti who is also taking part in the research is working to isolate unique chemical biomarkers responsible for ovarian cancer’s subtle scent using high-tech spectrometers and chromatographs. When he finds a promising compound, he tests whether the dogs respond to that chemical in the same manner that they respond to actual ovarian cancer tissue. He explained, “We have known for a long time that dogs are very sensitive detectors. When the opportunity arose to collaborate with Dr. Otto at the Working Dog Center, I jumped on it. I’m not embarrassed to say that a dog is better than my instruments.”


Gerry Oginski
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NY Medical Malpractice & Personal Injury Trial Lawyer
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