Little Rock Dogs being trained to sniff out cancer

LITTLE ROCK (KATV) Local search and rescuedogs are moving into the clinical realm, helping doctors detect cancer. Thedogs are moving laterally. Instead of being given a scent to find at a naturaldisaster, they're sniffing for cancer at a UAMS lab.

Scientists have proventhat there is a chemical difference between normal and cancerous tissues, so itis not surprising that some dogs can be trained to recognize these differences.

In 2008, a box of puppieswas dropped off at a Little Rock Animal Shelter. Donna Waugh says it was fate; shewas looking for a new search and rescue partner. "I went over and saw John D. Itwas like a sappy love story. The moment I saw him, he ran towards me, I rantowards him and that was all she wrote."

At 6 weeks old, shestarted training John D. He went on his first search at four months old. "Hehad a find at that point in time which is almost unheard of."

Since then, he has doneland recovery, water recovery and live finds. John D helped in the searchefforts after the Joplin tornado and the Nashville floods.

His success rate andeagerness to please got a local doctor's attention and the question was askedto Donna, "You think there is any chance that maybe a dog could be trained tofind a human cancer?"

He was taken into a labcovered with healthy urine samples and one ovarian cancer sample. "John D takeshis paw, lifts it up and goes, "wham" right on top of a sample. As John D islooking at us and breaking out with the biggest of smiles, the researcher saysthe dogs paw it on the malignant sample. She said he proved he can detect humancancer from a urine sample."

The study was picked upand Frankie, an abandoned mutt turned search and rescue dog, joined the team. Professorof Geriatrics, Arny Ferrando is his owner. "I may have saved him, but I thinkhe saved me to be honest with you. Hopefully he will save others in thefuture."

They are now working withthyroid cancer urine, blood and saliva samples. Ferrando adds, "The problem isThyroid cancer is very hard to diagnose. You have a very low percentage ofdiagnoses and it takes a lot of discomfort to get there."

The next step is to get anidea for the dogs predictability, figuring out what the lowest detection theycan scent. Ferrando questions, "Is it 500 cells, is it 1,000 cells, is it 5,000cells because each cell has basically a size and when you add it all up, itadds up to a nodule size."

Fernando believe the dogwill find it long before medicine will. "Instead of this being highanxiety for months and some pain for months and maybe surgery, it is overwithin a week."

Dr. Don Bodenner wasskeptical when the dogs were brought in. "I have been pleasantly surprised thatthe dogs have been incredibly accurate. That they've been able to detect theThyroid cancer and ignore the non cancer samples of urine with a real highdegree of accuracy. Right now they are over 90-percent sensitive and over 90percent specific and that is better than virtually any test you can do in medicinethat is astounding really."

He now worries about theacceptance in the medical field. "There is going to be a lot of opposition butwe always say the data is what the data is."

John D and Frankie arehaving fun, going to work with their owners and finding cancer for the big payout at the end treats and love. Donna says, "Our hope is that this will givedogs from shelters another avenue. When we rescue them, they will rescuepeople."

Donna concludes, "If wecan bring them into the labs and have them finding cancers, earlier detectionis the difference between you survive or it's a much tougher battle."

The doctors say there isno conceptual reason why the dogs couldn't do this with any cancer.

The dogs make it look easy,the hard part is getting funding. That is what stands between the dogs beingable to do this on a wide scale bases. Donna's vision is to expand the studywith more shelter dogs.

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