Dogs Sniffing Out Cancer
A recent double bind study published in the Journal of the American Osteopathic Association, gives new meaning for hound dogs; which are known to have a powerful sense of smell compared to other breeds. “We’re using the dogs to sort through the layers of scent until we identify the tell-tale biomarkers,” says Thomas Quinn, professor at Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine and lead author on this study.
The research published, discussed three mature beagles who demonstrated their ability to identify lung cancer by scent, a first step in identifying specific biomarkers for the disease – and researchers say the dogs’ abilities may lead to the development of a safe, effective, and inexpensive means for mass cancer screening. Seems like this may be old news as dogs have been used to sense seizures and other forms of medical issues for many years. Yet, perhaps we’re missing something as this old news made new news.
The beagles underwent eight weeks of training and were able to distinguish between blood serum samples taken from patients with malignant lung cancer and healthy controls with 97% accuracy. We’ve never met a dog who couldn’t decipher a “good” person from “bad” or an individual sick with disease and one who wasn’t. Dogs sense this. It makes them dogs!
The dogs were led into a room with blood serum samples at nose level. Some samples came from patients with non-small cell lung cancer; others were drawn from healthy controls. After thoroughly sniffing a sample, the dogs sat down to indicate a positive finding for cancer or moved on if none was detected. Good dog.
Dr. Quinn and his team are nearing their conclusion of a second iteration of the study. “There is still a great deal of work ahead, but we’re making good progress.” This time the dogs are working to identify lung, breast and colorectal cancer using samples of patients’ breath, collected using a type of breathalyzer.
The next step will be to further delineate the samples based on chemical and physical properties, presenting them back to the dogs until the specific biomarkers for each cancer are identified. The goal is to develop an over-the-counter screening product, similar to a pregnancy test, in terms of cost, simplicity and availability. Dr. Quinn envisions a device that someone can breathe into and see a color change to indicate a positive or negative finding. With or without the dogs?
Screening and imaging for lung cancer is costly and not always reliable. Chest X-rays have a high false-negative rate, while CT scans with computer-aided diagnosis have a high false-positive rate. Previous studies indicated that 90% of missed lung cancers occur when using chest X-rays, and CT scans have difficulty identifying small, central, juxtavascular lung cancers.
“Right now it appears dogs have a better natural ability to screen for cancer than our most advanced technology,” says Dr. Quinn. “Once we figure out what they know and how, we may be able to catch up.”
Silver Sage Magazine pool of writers and editors are #silversagers. We love writing and contributing to our audience in order to provide informative, timely and compelling content. We hope you find our articles relevant with a mature, sophisticated and insider’s voice.