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Friday, May 18, 2012

Dog Can Spot Cancer In People


This story appeared in the Yomiuri Shimbun, about a 10-year-old Labrador retriever that has been trained to detect gynecological cancer such as uterine cancer with a high level of accuracy. 
This may not be new news to anyone else except myself, but I do like dogs and wish my dog would get a job and start earning some money to help out around the house.
According to the article, the female lab named Marine was trained in Minami-Boso, Chiba-ken (Chiba Prefecture) to sniff out smells specific to cancer.
Miyashita Masao (surname first), a professor of Chiba Hokuso Hospital of Nippon Medical School says that the dog can also detect cancer of the large intestine, with tests now being done to see if Marine can also smell stomach or breast cancers. 

"She can detect symptomless early-stage cancer," Miyashita explains. "We'd like to determine the substance she smells and improve technology for early detection."

In the tests, the dog is walked past boxed containing test tubes each filled with one-millimeter of human urine. Apparently, just like a drug-sniffing dog, Marine will stop and sit in front of a box she suspect of containing something cancerous. 
Apparently the dog's accuracy is high. Out of 43 patients who had gynecological cancer (uterine, cervical and ovarian cancer, for example), the dog picked all 43. 
As well, she was 28 out of 29 in picking out non-cancerous gynecological diseases such as uterine fibroid.
While the report does not say just how many urine samples are within each test so we can determine if it's blind luck or not... 43 out of 43? Were there only 50 boxes? 100? The sample size makes a huge difference in determining the validity of these experiments.  
Still, a Kyushu University research team did confirm that the dog was accurate up to 90% of the time.
This blog would also like to know how long it took to train the the dog. Marine is 10-years-old and is a lab... that means she does not have that much time left. Labs might only live between 10-12 years owing to their large size. 
According to other sources, Marine was originally a water rescue dog as far back as 2003 and began being trained to sniff out cancer in 2005. 
I can't believe this works, but every time the dog correctly distinguished a cancer sample, she was allowed to play with a tennis ball.
My own Chocolate Lab, Buster is only 9 and has slowed down considerably and I fear he doesn't have much time left to even make it to 10. Of course, this dog is able to find a cookie hidden anywhere in the house.  One hundred percent of the time. As well, Buster chews and tears apart every type of ball given to him to play with.
Marine's success was especially good at detecting cancer at the early stages. Scientists are hoping to determine just what the dog actually smells to make it think it is sniffing a cancerous sample. If that can be determined, then this experiment will prove to be a worthwhile endeavor.   
But... will things end with marine's eventual demise? Hopefully not. 
Hopefully, practical applications can be found for Marine's medical sniffer, but we fear that a 90% accuracy just isn't good enough. Yet.  
There are reports that since Marine is unable to reproduce (certainly not at this age), that samples were taken so that she could be cloned.
Files compiled by Andrew Joseph

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