Cancer detection dog Levi’s hit rate nothing to sniff at

Levi, a German shepherd in training as a medical detection dog, is flanked by Pauline Blomfield...
Levi, a German shepherd in training as a medical detection dog, is flanked by Pauline Blomfield of K9 Medical Detection NZ (left) and University of Otago Biostatistics Centre director Robin Turner. PHOTO: SHARON BENNETT
The University of Otago’s youngest medical student has passed his first course with flying colours.

Levi, a 2-and-a-half-year-old German shepherd, has been achieving A+ results in his early training as a medical detection dog, learning how to sniff out bowel cancer.

During initial scent-imprint training Levi detected positive cancer samples 92.8% of the time, and ignored samples that did not contain cancer 99.8% of the time.

Levi featured in the Otago Daily Times in March last year when he was beginning training as a 9-month-old.

Now a hefty 48kg, Levi’s progress had been exciting, breeder and K9 Medical Detection founder Pauline Blomfield said.

"We were very confident going into this, given his breeding and genetics, that he would do well, so we’re absolutely delighted."

Under the tutelage of trainer Courteney Moore, in January Levi will move on from implanted samples to laboratory urine samples, and if progress is maintained, on to patient samples.

"What we are working towards is to showing that our dogs are a high diagnostic test and it is actually better than what diagnostic tests are available at the moment."

So confident is Ms Blomfield that Levi’s 16-month-old half-brother Weta is about to start initial training.

"We have our own canine medical detection All Blacks."

University of Otago Biostatistics Centre director Associate Prof Robin Turner said Levi’s results were very promising, but the forthcoming validation studies were required to show he had high diagnostic accuracy.

"At each step of the way we will need to assess the accuracy both in terms of the science but also it provides feedback for the training," Prof Turner said.

The canine testing project was initiated by Bowel Cancer Foundation Trust chief executive Georgina Mason, who was equally excited by Levi’s achievements.

"We expect Levi to be able to replicate the results, replacing saline with urine from January.

"When he is able to do that, this research will be a world first and help put New Zealand at the forefront of bowel cancer detection."

A highly accurate urine test using canine detection to help diagnose early stage bowel cancer could save lives by detecting serious cases earlier, she said.

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