Study to look into whether dogs can detect cancer

Therapy dog golden retriever. Photo: Getty Images
A University of Waikato study is looking into lung cancer screening with scent-detection dogs. Photo: Getty Images

Research investigating whether scent-detection dogs can identify lung cancer using breath and saliva is getting its first boost of funding.

Dr Timothy Edwards from the University of Waikato’s School of Psychology has secured a $233,607 grant to test his theory.

Edwards says several studies have demonstrated scent-detection dogs’ ability to accurately identify cancer, but few studies have involved methods that can be used in a clinical setting.

“An operationally viable detection system for lung cancer would have significant health and economic benefits in New Zealand and internationally,” he said.

“Improvements in accuracy and speed of diagnosis could result in increased detection rates and reduced mortality for people with lung cancer.”

Before joining the University of Waikato, Edwards worked for a humanitarian organisation in Tanzania investigating the accuracy of tuberculosis-detection by giant African pouched rats.

From that experience, he’s established a scent-detection research facility at the university and designed and built an automated canine apparatus which will be used for his research.

Health Research Council chief executive professor Kath McPherson said the contribution that animals can make to human health and wellbeing has been long known, but their role in detecting ill health was a more recent development.

“Evidence shows there are specific odour profiles associated with lung cancer, so there’s a chance this research might identify a valuable tool for earlier detection of the disease.

“It could also help inform the development of machine-based sensor technology. We think that’s worth a deeper look,” McPherson said.

Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer-related death in New Zealand, mainly because of the high cost of current lung cancer screening methods, which results in late detection.

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