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Because of their incredible sense of smell, dogs have been trained for decades to detect certain scents that humans simply can’t without expensive gadgets and lots of time, like drugs hidden in cars and homes, survivors of natural disasters, bacteria growing in hospitals, even the subtle changes in humans before an epileptic or diabetic episode. So, it’s no surprise that dogs are now being trained to detect ovarian cancer in women.
Now, researchers at the University of Pennsylvania’s Working Dog Center are training 3 dogs to detect the marker for ovarian cancer. If their efforts pan out, we could potentially see laboratories replaced with Labradors, with an inexpensive, non-invasive, and immediate way to detect the disease.
The most deadly of all female reproductive system cancers, ovarian cancer affects nearly 20,000 women each year.
Dr. Cynthia Otto, director of the Working Dog Center and associate professor of critical care at Penn Vet, explained to CBSNews.com that while mice are better at detecting things than dogs, they lack the ability to communicate to humans what they’ve found.
“I also find working with dogs more rewarding than working with mice,” she added.
The Kaleidoscope of Hope Foundation is funding the research study, which began about a year ago. The team selected 16 puppies, mostly hunting breeds or those descended from successful working dogs. After working with the dogs on standard scent detection and to find live humans, 3 finalists were selected to begin learning to detect the marker for ovarian cancer.
Now, the dogs are showing incredible accuracy in detecting diseased tissue samples. Otto hopes their success carries over to both blood samples, and less invasive samples, like urine or saliva.
Another similar study by researchers at the Pine Street Foundation has shown promise in teaching dogs to detect ovarian cancer through the patients’ breath!