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Health Alert: Dogs Help Sniff-Out Cancer

Updated: Friday, January 31 2014, 04:49 PM EST
PHILADELPHIA, Pa. (Karin Caifa) -- Doctors usually rely on sight, sound and touch when diagnosing certain diseases. 

Yet they rarely use the sense of smell, even though many diseases do have their own distinct chemical makeup.  It's not always obvious to the human nose.  But now with special training, dogs are being used to develop new diagnostic tests fro certain illnesses by using their own keen sense of smell.

Meet McBaine; half researcher, half detective, this pup possesses an investigative tool that even Sam Spade would envy.  Like most dogs, the Springer Spaniel is equipped with an acute sense of smell that can detect chemicals and changes in odors that humans and technology cannot.

"The great thing about dogs is not only are they more sensitive but they can filter things out."

In this case, McBaine and other dogs at the Penn Vet Working Dog Center in Philadelphia, have been taught to sniff out ovarian cancer tissue.  Why this particular cancer?  Scientists know that early ovarian cancer cells have special odors that can t be identified by standard methods, because they intertwine with other odors in the tissues.  But a dog can recognize and weed out the cancer odor easily.

"We switch the sample location, we change things around just to make sure that we are very confident that that's what they're detecting."

By using the dog's sense of smell, researchers hope to narrow down a specific odor so scientists can design a blood or urine test that can detect ovarian cancer in its earliest stages.

"We are trying to use the dogs to perfect the chemistry."

Something McBaine and his four legged buddies are more than happy to do. Health Alert: Dogs Help Sniff-Out Cancer


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