A cancer research project involving dogs could eventually pave the way for an over-the-counter mesothelioma test.
Researchers in Florida recently published a study suggesting that dogs may be able to detect lung cancer with surprising accuracy.
If they can determine which cancer biomarkers the dogs detect, they may be able to develop an over-the-counter mesothelioma test.
Can Dogs Smell Lung Cancer?
The new study comes from the Florida campus of the Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine (LECOM). Researchers there are working with a canine training and research firm called BioScentDX.
According to LECOM, a dog’s sense of smell is at least 10,000 times stronger than a person’s. The research team chose Beagles for the tests because they are among the most sensitive to smell of all dog breeds.
The goal of the current project was to see if Beagles could correctly identify blood serum samples from people with lung cancer. If scientists can figure out how they do it, it could be a breakthrough for cancer research.
Lung-related cancers like pleural mesothelioma are notoriously difficult to detect in the early stages. An over-the-counter mesothelioma test could save lives by allowing treatment to start earlier when it is more likely to be effective.
In Search of an Over-the-Counter Mesothelioma Test
For eight weeks, the researchers exposed three Beagles to wall-mounted canisters containing blood serum. Only one of the containers held serum from a lung cancer patient. Each time a dog sat in front of the right canister – and ignored the others – it received a treat.
The Beagles correctly identified the cancer samples 96.7 percent of the time. They correctly ignored non-cancerous samples 97.5 percent of the time.
Based on these results, LECOM and BioScentDX launched a second study. This one measures the dogs’ ability to detect several kinds of cancer from breath samples. Early results show this data could also contribute to the development of an over-the-counter mesothelioma test.
“This canine scent detection research could potentially change the whole paradigm of future early cancer detection,” says Thomas Quinn, DO. Dr. Quinn is a clinical professor of family and occupational medicine at LECOM and lead investigator of the study. “The objective is to advance canine scent detection of cancer from the realm of research into the sphere of evidence-based, early cancer detection.”
Right now, pleural mesothelioma detection involves blood and lung fluid tests, as well as X-rays and CT scans. These tests may be invasive or expensive or both. Many are not accessible to mesothelioma patients in rural communities.
If the dogs can help point the team to the right cancer biomarkers, the information could help scientists develop a simple, inexpensive, over-the-counter mesothelioma test.
“Beagles Detect Lung Cancer With 97 Percent Accuracy In New LECOM Research”, June 25, 2019, LECOM website, https://lecom.edu/beagles-detect-lung-cancer-with-97-percent-accuracy-in-new-lecom-research/