That dogs are world-class sniffers is old news, but a recent study has revealed a new application for their olfactory superpower: identifying cancer from blood samples.
Heather Junqueira, lead researcher at BioScent Dx, used a form of clicker-training to teach four Beagles to distinguish between normal blood serum—a clear, yellowish fluid separated from clotted blood and containing neither white nor red cells—and serum samples from individuals who had been diagnosed with malignant lung cancer.
One of the dogs—a cutie named Snuggles—declined to participate, but the other three correctly identified the samples from lung-cancer patients almost 97 percent of the time. Their success rate for identifying those from people who were cancer-free was 97.5 percent.
With dogs as detectors, scientists with the Florida-based R&D firm BioScent Dx are working to develop a non-invasive way to screen for cancer and other life-threatening diseases, and this study suggests that they may be on to something.
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As quoted in an article in Science Daily, Junqueira identified a two-fold way forward in the search for new cancer-detection tools:
“One is using canine scent detection as a screening method for cancers, and the other would be to determine the biologic compounds the dogs detect, and then design cancer-screening tests based on those compounds.”
Junqueira presented the research at the annual meeting of the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology earlier this month.