It’s no secret that dogs love to sniff around. Take your dog for a walk and chances are they’ll spend most of their time sniffing about, using their storied olfactory abilities to take in as much of the world around them as possible.
Indeed, the canine sense of smell has long been a potent tool used by humans, be it in police operations, forensic investigations, and even detecting pests such as bed bugs. With anywhere from 200 to 300 million sense receptors in dogs’ noses—versus a paltry 5 million in human noses—man’s best friend is highly sensitive to odors we have no ability to perceive. Dogs have even proven their effectiveness at detecting human health conditions like migraine headaches.
And now, a new study has proven the theory that dogs can use their highly evolved sense of smell to detect blood samples from people with cancer at a spectacularly precise rate of 97 percent accuracy.
The discovery could revolutionize the way in which researchers have sought new methods to detect cancer, which has ranged from artificial intelligence (AI) to breathalyzer tests.
Florida-based startup BioScentDx presented their study of canine cancer detection on Monday at Experimental Biology, a life sciences and medical research conference.
In a press statement, lead researcher Heather Junqueira of BioScentDx said:
“Although there is currently no cure for cancer, early detection offers the best hope of survival. A highly sensitive test for detecting cancer could potentially save thousands of lives and change the way the disease is treated.”
In notes about their presentation, the team of researchers said:
“Canines are able to differentiate between serum samples taken from cancer patients and samples taken from normal controls. This study further supports the use of dogs as biomedical research tools for detection of cancer biomarkers. In particular, this study was designed to determine the accuracy of canines’ ability to detect, by scent alone, lung cancer biomarkers in blood serum.”
During the study, the scientists utilized a behavioral technique known as “clicker training” to instruct four beagles to tell the difference between blood serum belonging to healthy people and samples taken from people with malignant lung cancer.
While one of the participating beagles, Snuggles, was “unmotivated to perform during training,” the other three beagles reached an average accuracy rate of 96.7 percent when identifying lung cancer samples and 97.5 percent when detecting the healthy samples.
“This work is very exciting because it paves the way for further research along two paths, both of which could lead to 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.”
The team hopes that the study could help pave the way to larger-scale research projects that can unlock the power of canine scent detection as an efficient means of ultimately identifying cancer biomarkers.
The team is planning further research in November, when breast cancer patients will donate samples of their breath for trained cancer-sniffing dogs in hopes that the samples can be separated into their chemical components and presented to the dogs.