For 15,000 years, we’ve had a cancer-detecting companion by our side! Yes, with the right training, dogs are able to smell signs of cancer in humans, before we can detect it with other tests. It’s an incredible feat that scientists are hoping will help us create new ways to “smell” cancer in its earliest stages!
Smelling cancer? We’re used to detecting cancer through imaging, lab tests, or biopsy but the nose is hardly something that first comes to mind when thinking of high-tech lifesaving tools.
Well, that’s where the help of our canine companions comes in. As you already know, dogs have a remarkable sense of smell, and it turns out that if we focus their intellect and skills in the right direction, that sense of smell is able to go far beyond what we are capable when it comes to early detection in some kinds of cancers!
When you think about it, we humans are pretty limited in our senses. Sure they’ve gotten us pretty far, but when you look to sensory specialists in the natural world, us humans really come up short. Thankfully for us though, thousands of years ago we befriended one of the best sniffers out there! For millennia we’ve had the aid of dogs to sniff out food, danger, and now, cancer!
A dog’s sense of smell is 10,000 to 100,000 times more acute than our own. For some context, if we were talking about this in visual terms, when we see something that’s a third of a mile away from us, a dog can see it more than 3000 miles away. 1 With our great lack of sniffing ability, it’s no wonder it took us so long to turn to smell as a form of cancer detection.
While we have some good early detection systems for some types of cancer, cancers like ovarian and pancreatic are difficult to detect in their early stages.
They don’t produce detectable symptoms or signatures that show up in our typical blood tests. So, usually, by the time they are caught, they are in late stages when therapy is no longer effective and survival is slim.
And this is where man’s best friend steps in! An incredible team of scientists in Philadelphia has come together from a range of fields including oncology, chemistry, nanophysics, and veterinary medicine to break new ground in early cancer detection. With a group of highly-trained dogs and close collaboration, they are working to create a detection system that would be able to “smell” ovarian cancer in its earliest stages using blood samples!
Their work could be an incredible breakthrough for the future of medicine!
Take a look at what this team of scientists and super sensor dogs are up to with this great video from SciFri!
Are you a lover of all things science? Well then, SciFri is the YouTube destination for you! With videos that cover a wide range of scientific discoveries, it’s a great place to get lost for a while.
What happens when we come together!
There are so many incredible parts of this project! First and foremost, we can appreciate the wonder of dogs. With their super sniffers and companionship, they’ve been a vital part of our lives and development for so long. It makes sense that we would turn to them for help!
Then there’s the wonderful, interdisciplinary nature of this work. It’s easy for research to fall into silos, but here, experts from so many fields have come together to create a groundbreaking project. The researchers are learning not only from the dogs but from each other as well!
The story of how this incredible team of researchers and this project came together is really quite something. And it’s in great thanks to the vision of Dr. Jody Piltz-Seymour. You can read more about how she was inspired by her own research and losing many of her family members to cancer–including ovarian and pancreatic cancer– over on the SiFri website!
Finally, there’s the very nature of the research they are taking on. This year, the American Cancer Society estimates that about 21,750 women will be diagnosed with ovarian cancer, but only 36% of those diagnosed will survive. 3 With early detection systems like those being developed with the help of dogs, many, many, future lives could be saved! And, the outcomes from this study could be used to apply to other difficult to detect forms of cancer, too. Imagine a future where we can thank dogs for the survival of a loved one!
What else is out there?
What other great breakthroughs in science and medicine are right around the corner when we collaborate not just with each other, but with the natural world?
Could we change medical technology by studying porcupine quills? Are there new opportunities to stop the spread of disease hiding in our spice cabinets? What could we learn from bugs about building more sustainable skyscrapers?
We are in an extraordinary time where collaboration and turning to nature can create remarkable innovations! It’s exciting to think about what the future holds. More and more, researchers are finding the inspiration to solve some of the world’s greatest challenges by looking at the natural world around them.
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- Tyson, Peter. “Dogs’ Dazzling Sense of Smell.” Pbs.Org, Nova, 4 Oct. 2012, www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/article/dogs-sense-of-smell/. Accessed 19 May 2020. ↩
- SciFri. “3 Ways To Smell Cancer.” YouTube, 2020, www.youtube.com/watch?v=MehVSYG3DpE. Accessed 19 May 2020. ↩
- “American Cancer Society.” Cancer.Org, 2020, www.cancer.org/cancer/ovarian-cancer/about/key-statistics.html. Accessed 19 May 2020. ↩