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May 6, 2019

Are Dogs the Next Big Thing in Cancer Detection?

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Are Dogs the Next Big Thing in Cancer Detection?

It comes as no surprise that dogs can smell things we can’t, considering their smell receptors are 10,000 times more accurate than ours. But did you think they’d be able to sniff out cancer?

According to Science Daily, there’s been a new study conducted by BioScentDx that looked into just that. The team, led by Heather Junqueira, used a type of clicker training to instruct four beagles to tell the difference between normal blood serum and samples that came from patients suffering from malignant lung cancer. Unfortunately one of the beagles, who was named Snuggles, was “unmotivated to perform” and subsequently dropped from the experiment; however, the remaining three dogs chosen for the study were able to accurately identify healthy samples 97.5% of the time and cancerous samples 96.7% of the time.

“Although there is currently no cure for cancer, early detection offers the best hope of survival,” said Junqueira. “A highly sensitive test for detecting cancer could potentially save thousands of lives and change the way the disease is treated.” Junqueira explained that her team’s groundbreaking study opened up two new avenues for further potential investigation: finding and using the biological compounds the dogs sniff out to develop new diagnostic tests, as well as simply using dogs–and their incredible senses of smell–to detect cancer.

Down the line, BioScentDx intends to use canine scent detection to create non-invasive tests for not only cancer but other diseases as well. The company began such efforts as early as last November, when they began a breast cancer study for which subjects donated samples of their breath to be screened by dogs trained to sniff out cancer. Moving forward, the team in charge of this study is going to separate the collected samples into their chemical components and show these to the trained dogs, in an effort to single out what it is that causes the dogs to detect–or not detect–cancer.