A major medical trial is underway to determine whether dogs can be used to reliably detect prostate cancer in humans.
The three-year study is being run by the UK-based charity Medical Detection Dogs and is part-funded by the National Health Service (NHS).
Eight dogs will undergo training using 3,000 samples from real prostate cancer patients at Milton Keynes University Hospital to determine how accurately dogs can detect human cancer.
Rob Harris, the charity’s bio-detection training manager said: “These dogs are being trained to detect the volatile signature for prostate cancer.
“They will be using their incredible sense of smell to analyze all of these chemicals that are coming off the urine sample and then they’re looking for a pattern that’s specific to prostate cancer.”
The dogs, a mixture of breeds including labradors and working spaniels, have all been chosen for their sniffing ability.
In fact, their noses are so sensitive that they can detect the equivalent of a single drop of blood in two Olympic-sized swimming pools.
Dr Claire Guest, chief executive of Medical Detection Dogs, told Sky News: “The dog is a bio-sensor, a highly sophisticated bio-sensor, with 300 million sensors. Just because he has a furry coat and a waggy tail doesn’t make the science any less real.
“If we can prove the accuracy of these dogs and have a test that’s 90% reliable, then that’s the most reliable test currently available in prostate testing.”
Prostate cancer affects one in seven men yet it is very difficult to diagnose – the diagnosis involves a blood test, a physical examination and a biopsy.
However the current blood test fails to detect the cancer in up to 15% of cases, and gives a false positive in 76% of tests.
Medical Detection Dogs say the trial will look at differentiating the severity of cancers and hope that it will eventually lead to a NHS screening program using their specialist cancer sniffing dogs.
The charity says: “Medical Detection Dogs uses the amazing power of the dog’s nose to detect human diseases. Our research is based on the dog’s ability to detect minute odour traces created by diseases.
“Because dogs are able to detect tiny odour concentrations, around one part per trillion, we are potentially able to detect diseases, such as cancer, much earlier than is currently possible.
“Our pioneering work could help to speed up the diagnosis process and impact on thousands of lives.
“We are very excited and proud to be carrying out an NHS ethically approved study into the dogs’ ability to detect urological cancers using their sense of smell.”
Further information: Sky News
Medical Detection Dogs – Cancer and bio-detection dogs