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Saturday, 22 January 2011

Aspirant - the cancer detecting dog

Dog's are well known for their powers of sniffing, guiding and licking themselves in places that would be rude if we humans tried to do the same thing.

And there are surely more than enough stories circulating on the Net about animal cruelty and just how much we use and abuse Man's Best Friend.

Here though is a tale of a dog, which according to the regional French daily La Nouvelle République has learnt a remarkable skill, and it's being put to good use.

Aspirant, a six-year-old Malinois, or Belgian shepherd dog, can detect patients with prostate cancer.

Aspirant (Screenshot from video accompanying La Nouvelle République report)

He's a military dog at the French airbase of Orléans-Bricy in central France and has undergone training to be able to detect signs of prostate cancer in urine samples.

It's all part of a programme of experiments conducted by Olivier Cussenot, the director of the research unit of urology at the Tenon hospital in Paris, who was put in contact with the airbase in 2007 because, as ministry of defence veterinarian Philippe Ulmer told the paper, "We have dogs capable of detecting all sorts of products such as drugs and explosives.

Over a period of months Aspirant, with the help of his handler, was taught to tell the difference between urine samples which came from patients diagnosed with prostate cancer and those without, always, stressed Ulmer, with the sense that, "Aspirant thought it was a game and when he correctly identified a 'positive' sample he would be rewarded."

And the training seemed to work - far beyond the expectations of many, according to Ulmer.

"One day we were surprised when he indicated that a negative sample was apparently positive," he said.

"It was then sent off to Paris for analysis and the tests came back proving that the dog had been right; the patient had indeed developed prostate cancer."

Journalists, including Bruno Besson from the paper, were treated to their own demonstration of Aspirant's ability last Friday when they were invited to see him in action at the airbase.

"Three samples were hidden in the drawers of three different tables," writes Besson.

"One of them was 'positive' and the other two 'negative'," he continues.

"Aspirant entered the room, sniffed the first table and then went to the second where he immediately sat down and didn't move. He was right!"

Aspirant might be unique in France, but there are reports of "canine cancer detection" (Wikipedia's catchy little title for the screening which it defines as relying "upon the olfactory ability of dogs to detect very low concentrations of the alkanes and aromatic compounds generated by tumors") in other countries.

In 2006 The Pine Street Foundation in Marin County, California published the findings of a study it had carried out claiming that it had trained dogs "to detect lung cancer in the breath of cancer sufferers with 99 percent accuracy."

And in 2004 the British Medical Journal published a paper outlining the results of a test to determine "whether dogs can be trained to identify people with bladder cancer on the basis of urine odour more successfully than would be expected by chance alone."

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Apparently, the sense of smell in dogs is up to 100000 times more developed than in humans. This means that dogs can recognize smells in concentrations that are a hundred thousand times smaller than those that a human being can detect. Amazing!

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