Determining how dogs do this may lead to biomarkers for new clinical laboratory diagnostics tests
Development of new diagnostic olfactory tools for prostate and other cancers is expected to result from research now being conducted by a consortium of researchers at different universities and institutes. To identify new biomarkers, these scientists are studying how dogs can detect the presence of prostate cancer by sniffing urine specimens.
Funded by a grant from the Prostate Cancer Foundation, the pilot study demonstrated that dogs could identify prostate samples containing cancer and discern between cancer positive and cancer negative samples.
This is not the only research study to focus on the ability of dogs to detect cancer and other health conditions. During the COVID-19 pandemic, dogs were used to spot people infected with the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus. Dark Daily covered this in “German Scientists Train Dogs to Detect the Presence of COVID-19 in Saliva Samples; Can a Canine’s Nose Be as Accurate as Clinical Laboratory Testing?”
The “end goal” of this latest pilot study is “to pave the way towards development of machine-based olfactory diagnostic tools that define and recapitulate what can be detected and accomplished now via canine olfaction,” according to a research paper published in the peer-reviewed journal PLOS ONE, titled, “Feasibility of Integrating Canine Olfaction with Chemical and Microbial Profiling of Urine to Detect Lethal Prostate Cancer.”
Research institutions, hospitals, and laboratories that participated in the pilot study included:
- Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, MD,
- James Buchanan Brady Urological Institute at Johns Hopkins Hospital,
- Cambridge Polymer Group, Cambridge, Mass.,
- Prostate Cancer Foundation, Santa Monica, Calif.,
- University of Texas at El Paso, El Paso, Texas,
- Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston,
- Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Mass., and others.
Canine Olfactory Combined with Artificial Intelligence Analysis Approach
The part of a canine brain that controls smell is 40 million times greater than that of humans. Some dog breeds have 300 to 350 million sensory receptors, compared to about five million in humans. With their keen sense of smell, dogs are proving to be vital resources in the detection of some diseases.
The pilot study examined how dogs could be trained to detect prostate cancer in human urine samples.
To perform the study, the researchers trained two dogs to sniff urine samples from men with high-grade prostate cancer and from men without the cancer. The two dogs used in the study were a four-year-old female Labrador Retriever named Florin, and a seven-year-old female wirehaired Hungarian Vizsla named Midas. The dogs were trained to respond to cancer-related chemicals, known as volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, the researchers added to the urine samples, and to not respond to the samples without the VOCs.
Both dogs performed well in their cancer detection roles, and both successfully identified five of seven urine samples from men with prostate cancer, correlating to a 71.4% accuracy rate. In addition, Florin correctly identified 16 of 21 non-aggressive or no cancer samples for an accuracy rate of 76.2% and Midas did the same with a 66.7% accuracy rate.
The researchers also applied gas chromatography-mass spectroscopy (GC-MS) analysis of volatile compounds and microbial species found in urine.
“We wondered if having the dogs detect the chemicals, combined with analysis by GC-MS, bacterial profiling, and an artificial intelligence (AI) neural network trained to emulate the canine cancer detection ability, could significantly improve the diagnosis of high-grade prostate cancer,” said Alan Partin, MD, PhD, Professor of Urology, Pathology and Oncology, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and one of the authors of the study, told Futurity.
The researchers determined that canine olfaction was able to distinguish between positive and negative prostate cancer in the samples, and the VOC and microbiota profiling analyses showed a qualitative difference between the two groups. The multisystem approach demonstrated a more sensitive and specific way of detecting the presence of prostate cancer than any of the methods used by themselves.
In their paper, the researchers concluded that “this study demonstrated feasibility and identified the challenges of a multiparametric approach as a first step towards creating a more effective, non-invasive early urine diagnostic method for the highly aggressive histology of prostate cancer.”
Can Man’s Best Friend be Trained to Detect Cancer and Save Lives?
Prostate cancer is the second leading cause of cancer deaths among men in the developed world. And, according to data from the National Cancer Institute, standard clinical laboratory blood tests, such as the prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test for early detection, sometimes miss the presence of cancer.
Establishing an accurate, non-invasive method of sensing the disease could help detect the disease sooner when it is more treatable and save lives.
The American Cancer Society estimates that there will be about 248,530 new cases of prostate cancer diagnosed in 2021 and that there will be approximately 34,130 deaths resulting from the disease during the same year.
Of course, more testing will be needed before Man’s best friend can be put to work detecting cancer in medical environments. But if canines can be trained to detect the disease early, and in a non-invasive way, more timely diagnosis and treatment could result in higher survival rates.
Meanwhile, as researchers identify the elements dogs use to detect cancer and other diseases, this knowledge can result in the creation of new biomarkers than can be used in clinical laboratory tests.