The impressive olfactory capabilities of man’s best friend know no bounds. We’ve all heard about the dogs who can detect biological changes in humans but what about detecting diseases in their own species?

Now an Oncology Specialist at Davies Veterinary Specialists in Hertfordshire has embarked on a study to determine if dogs can be trained to detect canine transitional cell carcinoma in the odour of urine.

Isabelle Desmas-Bazelle, one of three Oncology Specialists at Davies, is currently working on this project to find an affordable, rapid and non-invasive diagnostic test. Her work follows studies in human medicine where the use of detection dogs to identify cancer from its odour is already paving the way for the development of an ‘eNose’ – an inexpensive, non-invasive point of care diagnostic instrument.

Urinary transitional cell carcinoma is the most common bladder cancer in dogs but diagnosis can be difficult, with clinical signs similar to several other urinary tract disorders and taking a urine sample via a needle is inadvisable as it may cause tumours to spread. For a definitive diagnosis, histopathology (microscopic examination of tissue) of a biopsy sample is required, however, this is invasive, expensive and increases the length of time to obtain final results, delaying the start of treatment.

During the study, leftover urine samples will be taken from healthy dogs and from dogs with urinary transitional cell carcinoma or non-malignant urinary tract disease. These samples will be used to train dogs to distinguish between healthy and those with the disease. This will be followed by a proof of principle study on a larger sample size to evaluate if the project can be taken to the next level, including involvement from multiple referral centres. 

Isabelle Desmas-Bazelle said, “We speculate that trained dogs can detect tumour related volatile compounds present in the urine and accurately diagnose cancer patients. Further studies could use the same principle on other cancer and tissue types. Ultimately our results could be used for comparative oncology for human cancers.”

Still in the early stages, urine has been collected from 17 cases so far and specialists hope to complete the study in the next couple of years.

Photo: Emma Jeffery

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