A team of physicians, veterinarians, and animal behaviorists at the University of California in Davis have been training a pair of dogs to identify the scent of cancer in humans.
The dogs are currently undergoing a 12-month training program to detect cancer in samples of saliva, breath, and urine. The dogs will learn to distinguish samples from cancer patients and healthy individuals, especially at the early stages of disease.
The theory behind the science is that the olfactory acuity of dogs enables them to detect odorant concentration levels at one to two parts per trillion, which is roughly 10,000 to 100,000 times that of a human. The researchers have established that dogs can recognize melanoma as well as bladder, lung, breast, and ovarian cancers, and the training can help the dogs identify the molecules that differentiate cancer from non-cancer.
Hilary Brodie, professor and chair of the UC Davis department of otolaryngology, hopes that the identification of these molecules will lead to innovative and readily available methods of detection. “Much like the hand-held devices used to detect alcohol, drugs, and explosives have revolutionized our safety, having a new tool to detect early-stage cancer would have incredible benefits for patient care.”
The UC Davis dogs will begin a clinical trial for cancer screening in early 2016.