One of the Best Cancer-Detecting Breeds

Attached to a wheel in the center of a floor are twelve small cups that contain blood samples. Only one contains the blood sample from a patient fighting one of the most deadly diseases in women: Ovarian cancer. A black-and-white English Springer spaniel whose tail never stops wagging runs around the wheel smelling each cup, and suddenly, he stops and places his paw on one of them. He sits down.

“McBaine” is one of four dogs enrolled in an innovative study that is trainingdogs to identify ovarian cancer by its smell. Researchers want to learn exactly what it is the dogs are detecting in the cancer with the goal of inventing a diagnostic device that could mimic the dog’s nose. An ovarian diagnosis usually comes at a very advanced stage because there are so few symptoms Perhaps one day, such a device would give doctors a tool to find ovarian cancer long before victims even know they are sick.

Springers are one of the top ten dogs thought to have the best sense of smell, and they show only one way in which purebred dogs are helping scientists improve human health. Gene-influenced disorders in purebred dogs shed light on human diseases, some of which afflict both man and dog. Because of pedigrees, record keeping, and in some cases, line breedings, data provides clues that would be more time consuming to glean from human research where a disease could stem from one of several genetic defects. Once scientists have found a syndrome in a dog, they can see if the same holds true for some human beings. If this sort of thing interests you, consider following the research of Elaine Ostrander, the chief of the Cancer Genetics and Comparative Genomics Branch at the National Human Genome Research Institute of NIH. See more about Dr. Ostrander’s work here. For more about McBane, the English Springer Spaniel, read this New York Times article here.

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