A biodetection dog is a dog trained to detect conditions and diseases in humans using its sense of smell. For instance, dogs can be trained to identify the odor of cancer, or minute changes in body odor that reflect dangerous physiologic conditions for people with diabetes, Addison’s Disease, or seizure disorders. These alert dogs can warn their owners, bring vital medical supplies, and even call for assistance.

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History of Canine Olfactory Detection

Dogs have been renowned throughout history for their sense of smell. In our society, for example, we use dogs to detect drugs and explosives. Doctors have also known for centuries that certain diseases have characteristic odors, or cause changes in the baseline body odor. However, it was not until recently that researchers applied dog’s detection of these odors as a diagnostic or therapeutic tool.
In 1989, The Lancet published a case report about a woman whose pet dog showed a persistent interest in a mole on her leg, which turned out to be malignant melanoma, or skin cancer. Subsequently, other similar anecdotal stories have been reported, including dogs that behaved strangely when their ownders developed bowel, cervical, and breast cancer.
The first controlled research study of canine biodetection was published in 2004 in the British Medical Journal. Church et al demonstrated that dogs can be trained to identify the smell of bladder cancer within urine. As part of Cancer and Bio-detection Dogs, he and other researchers are continuing to research the subject.
The Pine Street Foundation recently announced a study in which their preliminary results suggest that human exhaled breath condensate (EBC) may provide an important source of biomarkers for early detection of ovarian cancer. They tested the ability of trained dogs in California labs to distinguish ovarian cancer from controls using samples of exhaled breath condensate with accuracy of over 97%. Using biodetection dogs and chemical methods, they hope to develop a new “breathalyzer” type test for early detection of ovarian cancer.



Clinical Practice of Canine Olfactory Detection

Currently, biodetection dogs are not being used in clinical practice. However, the direction of research for the Pine Street Foundation is to develop an “electronic nose,” which they hope will eventually be incorporated into clinical practice.



What’s New in Canine Olfactory Detection

In August 2010, the Cancer Detection Dogs finished a 14 month clinical trial with Amerderm and the Buckinghamshire NHS Trust. The results have not yet been published.
The Pine Street Foundation is researching diagnostic breath analysis with dogs in the hopes of developing an “electronic nose.” They hope to use chemical analysis to understand precisely what compounds the dogs detect by scent.



Research Centers and Links for Canine Olfactory Detection

There are currently two research centers for biodetection dogs:

Cancer and Bio-detection Dogs in the United Kingdom
Pine Street Foundation in San Francisco


Related Topics, Links and References

Note that these and other references will soon be available to members, through our library. You may also visit our more extensive References and Clinical Studies page for canine olfactory detection here.

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