Dogs Being Trained To Smell Cancer

by Rebecca on January 7, 2008

in Animals in the News

Animals Can Smell Scents Given Off By Tumor Cells

Researchers have found a new way to hunt for cancer cells, possibly before
even the most sensitive equipment could detect them. They’re not using
expensive hospital equipment, but rather, man’s best friend. Shing Ling, 2,
is more than just a furry companion for researcher Michael McCulloch.

He and other researchers are developing a pilot program to train dogs to
identify who has cancer. “(Cancer patients) have a different bouquet of odor
that’s detectable to the dog,” he said. McCulloch collects breath samples
for both lung cancer patients and healthy patients. Shing Ling is being
trained to detect which is which.

“The project is to very carefully measure how good the dog is at
distinguishing between lung cancer samples from a normal person,” McCulloch
said. Dogs have 40 times the number of scent-receiving cells in their noses
than humans have, making them able to sense the most minute scents given off
by tumor cells. The goal with the dogs is to detect tumors before the most
sophisticated technology can.

Shing Ling’s trainer commands the dog to tell him which one smells like
cancer. When the dog chooses which one she thinks has the cancer scent, she
taps it with her paw. After a year and a half of perfecting the training
methods, he said Shing Ling is right 87 percent of the time. But many
doctors won’t believe it until real evidence comes in. McCulloch isn’t the
only researcher with these ideas. Scientists in Florida and England are also
seeing if the dogs’ noses know.

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