Frank and its fellow trainee, McBaine Chamberlain, a spunky springer spaniel, are a part of an interdisciplinary research project at the University of Pennsylvania to help scientists discover a chemical footprint that might lead to earlier diagnostic tests to save human lives.
They are among 15 carefully bred detection dogs learning to sniff out explosives, drugs and missing people. Researchers are using the keen sense of smell of the dogs to identify the earliest odour of ovarian cancer, a silent killer often diagnosed too late. Cancer cells leave a detectable bio-marker, just as asparagus can affect the smell of urine when eaten.
Penn Vet founder and executive director Cynthia M Otto hopes the dogs can be trained to narrow down a specific odour within two years, so scientists can design an inexpensive and less-invasive blood test to catch ovarian cancer while it's still treatable.
"All dogs are really good at sniffing, but part of what gives them a huge advantage over us is the surface area of the olfactory receptors," Otto said. The dogs have already been introduced to the cancer tissue smell and were taught to sit when they found it.
Otto's work builds on a 2010 Swedish study, which used pet giant schnauzers to detect ovarian cancer. Tissue tests showed sensitivity of 100 percent and specificity of 95 percent; blood tests showed sensitivity of 100 percent and specificity of 98 percent, the report said. Dogs with long noses have the largest surface areas of olfactory receptors, said researchers.


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