PHILADELPHIA, Penn. (CNN) — A group of dogs are helping scientists design an early detection test for ovarian cancer.
Doctors usually rely on sight, sound and touch when diagnosing certain diseases. Yet, they rarely use the sense of smell, even though many diseases have their own distinct chemical makeup not obvious to the human nose.
Now, with special training, dogs are being used to develop new diagnostic tests for certain illnesses by using their keen sense of smell.
McBaine is a springer spaniel 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,” said Dr. Cynthia Otto, director of the Penn Vet Working Dog Center.
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.
Scientists know that early ovarian cancer cells have special odors that cannot 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 detecting,” said Dr. Otto.
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.