According to Fox News on Monday, dogs are being used to sniff out ovarian cancer, a very deadly form of cancer that is almost always detected to late to save a patient.
Ovarian cancer accounts for around 3% of all cancers in women, and mainly develops in older women aged over 63. According to the American Cancer Society, 22,240 women in the US will receive a new diagnosis of ovarian cancer this year, and 14,230 women will die from the disease.
Like many cancers, it has a characteristic odor – one that the common household dog can be trained to detect before it’s too late. At the University of Pennsylvania, using tumor specimens donated by cancer victims, researchers are putting dogs to work to sniff out cancer.
A group of researchers collaborated to investigate using canine olfaction and chemical and nanotechnology analysis as a means of detecting early-stage ovarian cancer.
Volatile organic compounds (VOC) - or odorants, are altered in the early stages of ovarian cancer. The researchers say that previous studies have shown that trained detection dogs, alongside specific electronic devices, are able to detect minute quantities of odorants.
Patients from Penn Medicine, with and without ovarian cancer, have donated tissue and blood samples to the Working Dog Center to assist in their research.
The project is already under way, with three dogs being trained to sniff out the odorants that indicate a woman has ovarian cancer:
- A springer spaniel called McBaine
- A labrador retriever called called Ohlin, and
- Tsunami - a German shepherd.
The next step in the process, which takes place at the Monell Chemical Senses Center, is to narrow down through analytical chemistry exactly which volatile odors from the cancer the dog is smelling. The researchers do this by using gas chromatography and mass spectroscopy – along with trial and error.
This information will be used in the construction of an electronic sensor – or artificial ‘nano-nose’ – that may one day be used in the doctor’s office to diagnose ovarian cancer earlier.
Emily Sutherlin is also the Pregnancy Examiner.
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