We’ve always been aware of a dog’s remarkable sense of smell and have used this ability in border security, drug detection and rescue operations for many years. Researchers are now using this keen sense of smell as a form of noninvasive medical diagnostic technology.
The ABC reports on recent research by Dr Tim Edwards at New Zealand’s Waikato University where dogs are being used to detect early stages of lung cancer.
Lung cancer is often diagnosed in late stages as this is when affected individuals start to have symptoms that trigger a doctor’s visit. Unfortunately, by this point, it is often too late and for this reason, the development of routine non-invasive screening tests are so important allowing significantly earlier detection and treatment of the disease.
While the study is ongoing, researchers believe it’s the minute biochemical differences between the odours of a sick individual versus a healthy individual that the dog is able to pick up on.
Many studies have been conducted where trained dogs have been shown to be able to detect various other forms of cancer such as colorectal cancer from people’s breath, ovarian cancer from blood samples and prostate cancer from urine.
Dr Edwards’ study plans to use the samples analysed by the dogs to help determine the key compounds within the sample that the dog uses to identify the cancer. This information can then be used when creating an ‘electronic nose’ to detect and diagnose early stages of lung cancer. With many other forms of electronic nose currently in development, it may only be a matter of time before we see the technology available on the market.
This article appeared in the January/February 2019 issue of the Australian Veterinary Journal.