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Good boys sniff out aggressive cancer

June 7, 2021

Dog in autumn leaves

Man’s best friend has one of nature’s best noses, and it’s getting more involved in disease detection, at least in the lab.

The subject is prostate cancer, which will claim a projected 34,000 American lives this year, and whose diagnosis is fraught with shortcomings. One diagnostic difficulty is differentiating less dangerous forms of the disease from more aggressive ones.

New research finds that leveraging canines’ remarkable smelling ability supports improved detection of aggressive prostate cancer. With roughly 50 times the number of nose receptors that humans have, dogs have already worked as COVID-19 detectors, as we posted about here.

In the new research, two dogs were recruited to sniff samples of urine from men diagnosed with high-grade prostate cancer and from men without the cancer, according to a Johns Hopkins news release.


Good grades for the pooches

The dogs – Florin (a 4-year-old lab) and Midas (a 7-year-old wirehaired Hungarian Vizsla) – identified five of seven urine samples from men with cancer, or 71.4% accuracy. Florin was able to correctly identify 16 of the 21 non-aggressive or no-cancer samples (76.2%), while Midas was able to pick out 14 (66.7%).

When the canine olfactory (smell) results were combined with gas chromatography–mass spectrometry, bacterial profiling, and artificial intelligence (AI) analysis, the multisystem approach proved a more sensitive and more specific means of detecting lethal prostate cancer than any of the methods alone, Johns Hopkins reported.

“While dogs themselves are impractical as scalable diagnostic sensors, machine olfaction for cancer detection is testable,” researchers wrote in the PLOS ONE journal. The goal of the pilot study was to pave the way for the development of machine-based tools that “recapitulate what can be detected and accomplished now via canine olfaction.”

Human biospecimens will make a difference

This is one of many important research projects relying on human biospecimens. “We fully expect that larger sample pools will be the key enabler of statistically powered, multi-institutional future studies,” the paper said.

Urine samples, whether from cancer patients or healthy controls, are available in large quantities through the iSpecimen Marketplace. Research organizations can specify patient age, gender, race, condition, severity, blood type, procedures, test results, outcomes, smoking status, family history, and more.

You, however, need to supply the dog and its nose.

Learn about the iSpecimen Marketplace where you can browse millions of richly annotated, de-identified human tissue and biofluid biospecimens, in addition to hematopoietic and immune cell products and COVID-19 samples. You can join for free and creating a login is easy. Request a quote or custom collection today.