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New Device Helps Dogs 'Sniff Out' Cancer

02 July 2014

UK - Dogs detecting cancer usually do so by using a device that consists of a metal pad installed on top of a sample tube which the dog sniffs. If cancer cells are present, the dog then indicates this to its handler, perhaps by sitting.

A prototype of new technology to help specially trained dogs ‘sniff out’ the tell-tale signs of cancer in biological samples has been unveiled by The Open University (OU) at the 2014 Royal Society Summer Exhibition.

Researchers, headed up by Dr Clara Mancini, at the Animal Computer Interaction (ACI) Lab at the OU in Milton Keynes, have worked with the charity Medical Detection Dogs to design the device which helps dogs to communicate whether cancer cells are present in biological samples.

This process makes use of dogs’ incredibly sensitive sense of smell which is considerably keener than a human’s, and capable of detecting traces of volatile compounds given off by cancer cells.

The ACI Lab has developed this device by embedding a special pressure pad to sense the level of pressure the dog exerts whilst sniffing.

The level of pressure the dog exerts is recorded by a computer that is attached to the device, which in turn can indicate the level of confidence the dog has that cancer cells are present.

Over time this data can be analysed to take into account a particular dog’s personality (i.e. whether it is more eager or more nervous affecting how strongly it touches the pad).

The device is being tested on a range of cancers, including prostate cancer, currently a major killer of men in the UK. Researchers hope it could provide a more accurate early screening service to replace the current, notoriously unreliable, test for prostate cancer.

Dr Mancini, Head of the Animal Computer Interaction Lab at The Open University, said:
“Our work with Medical Detection Dogs offers a new, potentially life-saving method of improving cancer detection at an early stage without the need for invasive tests. If this prototype is successful, we could see this device in use within the next three years.”

ThePetSite News Desk

Top image via Shutterstock



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