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Sensitive Cancer-Sniffing Electronic Nose

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A dog really is a man’s best friend, or in this case, a woman’s. Swedish scientists have studied how dogs are able to, quite literally, sniff out cancer and have developed an extra sensitive electronic nose to detect ovarian cancer based on this knowledge.

György Horvath, MD, PhD, from the University of Gothenburg, together with professor Thomas Lindblad from KTH Royal Institute of Technology and Jose Chilo from Gävle University have developed a new, more sensitive, cancer-detecting electronic nose using an existing device but with added features and tools garnered from their research.

A 2008 research conducted by Horvath concluded that specially trained dogs are able to detect a specific scent emitted by ovarian cancer and that this unique odor can also be found in the blood of ovarian cancer patients. The dogs were also able to differentiate between ovarian cancer, normal healthy tissue and other gynecological cancers. The dogs used in the study were also able to detect early stage and low grade ovarian cancers, as well as borderline tumors. Their findings were published in the Journal BMC Cancer.

Dogs are able to detect the odor molecules found in ovarian cancer but a more highly sensitive electronic nose is advanced enough to find other odorless compounds to make early detection more possible.

“We’ve managed to detect and register the scent from a form of ovarian cancer, and the scent from a healthy fallopian tube and healthy womb muscle,” said Horvath.

“This technical confirmation of a cancer scent will have major practical implications - a sufficiently sensitive and specific method could save hundreds of lives a year in Sweden alone.

“Our goal is to be able to screen blood samples from apparently healthy women and so detect ovarian cancer at an early stage when it can still be cured."

According to the National Institute of Cancer, approximately 21,880 new cases of ovarian cancer in the United States were expected in 2010 and an estimated 13,850 deaths. Ovarian cancer is also the fourth most common cancer found amongst women. This high mortality rate is due to late diagnosis.

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