Science & Technology Correspondent
Dogs are called man’s best friend for a wide variety of reasons. A new study may add one more reason to that list. According to a New York Times article, researchers at the Penn Vet Working Dog Center in Philadelphia are training dogs to literally sniff out cancer in humans.
A dog’s sense of smell is significantly more developed than a human’s. When trained properly, dogs are able to detect chemical changes that can signal diabetic emergencies or seizures, the presence of drugs or bombs and even people trapped under rubble.
Their impressive abilities have proven to be lifesaving on multiple levels, so it is not all that surprising that researche’s seek to expand the scope of uses for man’s best friend.
Most of the dogs at the Working Dog Center are purebred German Shepherds or Labradors because these breeds are particularly gifted in the way of sense of smell and obedience in training. They are instinctively hard workers who love to please their handlers.
The researchers are targeting ovarian cancer detection in their training of these dogs. Ovarian cancer has a high mortality rate when not treated in its early stages.
The hope is that these dogs will assist researchers in creating new technology that will detect the chemical signals released by cancerous tissue that is still too minute to see with medical imaging.
Four dogs have been trained so far to identify which tissue sample out of several options is giving off the chemical signal that mimics ovarian cancer’s smell.
The ultimate goal for further research in this area is the development of a machine, called a Cyborg sensor, which would have the function of an “electronic nose.”
This “nose” would act like the dogs’ in the sense that it will be able to detect certain chemical signals through their bonding with specialized sensors within the machine.
This would in turn, isolate the signals given off from different forms of cancer, with the hope that it could identify not only ovarian cancer, but also melanoma, breast, prostate, bladder and lung cancers in their early stages.
Despite The Center’s progress, many outside doctors are skeptical that this research will accomplish any major breakthroughs.
The prevailing doubt is that the chemical signal isolation of different cancers is too large of an undertaking.
The cancerous chemical signals often overlap each other, and many skeptics believe that the research will not produce the early detection benefits that it is seeking.
But for now, our furry friends are hard at work learning yet another way to save our lives and keep us safe.