Cancer Detection Dogs recently gained the spotlight for their ability to accurately smell cancer in breath, blood, or other tissue samples. These unique medical detection dogs undergo specialized training to alert their handler to the presence of cancerous cells. While this branch of scent work is relatively new, using dogs to detect, locate, or verify scents has been done for thousands of years.
What is BioScentDX?
BioScentDX, a company specializing in using canines for cancer screening, presented the results of their recent cancer detection research and studies at the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology annual meeting held during the April 2019 Experimental Biology symposium. Dogs, BioScentDX says, can be trained to detect cancer from scent samples with 97% accuracy.
Heather Junqueira, the lead researcher and study director at BioScentDX, says dogs offer a low-cost, minimally invasive way to screen high volumes of patients. Quicker, cheaper methods of detection allow for earlier discovery of cancer, which allows for treatment to begin during the early stages of the disease.
“This work is very exciting because it paves the way for further research along two paths, both of which could lead to new cancer-detection tools,” said Junqueira. “One is using canine scent detection as a screening method for cancers, and the other would be to determine the biologic compounds the dogs detect and then design cancer-screening tests based on those compounds.”
Dogs’ Brains Specialize in Processing Scents
The canine brain prioritizes scent over the other senses. Furthermore, it dedicates a whopping 40% of sensory function to processing scents and smells. This allows dogs to reliably identify and catalog millions of smells. When a trained detection dog encounters a target odor, they alert their handler so appropriate action can be taken. For some detection dogs, the target odor is drugs, explosives, or the scent of a missing person. For others, like the cancer detection dogs at BioScentDX, the target odor is cancer.
There are several breeds of dogs capable of locating and identifying scent diluted to parts per trillion. Beagles, Labradors, and German Shepherds rank high among them. “Parts per trillion” looks like a single spritz of perfume in a stadium or a half teaspoon of sugar tossed into an Olympic sized swimming pool. Another way to look at parts per trillion is with time — it’s the equivalent of 1 second out of 32,000 years.
BioScentDX exclusively uses Beagles for their cancer screening programs but other researchers have ran cancer detection studies with Standard Poodles, Labrador and Golden Retrievers, Springer Spaniels, and various mixed breeds, with varying results. As scientists haven’t yet located a compound that’s universal to all cancers, the dogs need to be taught the scent of different kinds of cancers. Most of the focus is on the deadlier forms of cancer, including breast, prostate, skin, colorectal, blood, and lung cancers.
What Are Some of BioScentDX’s Cancer Detection Goals?
Cancer Detection Dog research is in the early stages, but the results appear to be very promising. Currently, the dogs work from a variety of scent samples, including blood, urine, skin, biopsy samples, and breath samples. BioScentDX hopes to streamline a screening system using the least invasive and most accurate form of sample collection, which appears to be breath samples.
To support BioScentDX’s early cancer detection research and mission, interested parties can purchase a cancer screening kit directly from their website. Prices vary from $50 for a single screening test to $140 for 4 screening tests, which allows for quarterly screening for a year. BioScentDX does remind people that this test is experimental, but, at the time of this writing, is over 95% accurate.