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Can Your Dog Detect Cancer?

 

THEY ARE LOYAL FRIENDS, DEVOTED COMPANIONS AND CHERISHED MEMBERS OF THE FAMILY.

THERE'S NO DOUBT DOGS AND HUMANS HAVE A SPECIAL RELATIONSHIP. IN FACT, DNA EVIDENCE INDICATES THAT CANINES HAVE BEEN LIVING WITH AND HELPING PEOPLE FOR AS LONG AS 15,000 YEARS. AND THE MOMENT PEOPLE WELCOMED CANINES INTO THEIR SOCIETY, THE FATE OF BOTH SPECIES CHANGED.

MCCULLOCH: Dogs and people have been working together. Looking for a mutually shared success, safety, food as a really kind of a partnership. And that then maybe one reason why we've been so successful on the planet.

WE RELY ON DOGS FOR A LOT OF THINGS. THEY GUIDE THE BLIND, FIND LOST OR BURIED PEOPLE, AND DETECT BOMBS AND DRUGS. AND NOW, THEY ARE USING THEIR NOSES TO HELP SNIFF OUT ONE OF HUMANKIND'S BIGGEST KILLERS.

AT THE PINE STREET FOUNDATION IN SAN ANSELMO, CALIFORNIA, DOGS ARE BEING TRAINED TO DETECT CANCER.

MCCULLOCH: We're interested in early detection. Because most of the time, early detection means better treatment response, better longevity and quality of life.

CANCER KILLS MORE THAN HALF A MILLION AMERICANS EACH YEAR. CATCHING IT EARLY CAN MAKE ALL THE DIFFERENCE.

CURRENT EARLY DIAGNOSTIC TECHNOLOGY IS SOMEWHAT UNRELIABLE. BUT IT TURNS OUT DOGS MAY HAVE THE NATURAL ABILITY TO SMELL THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN MALIGNANT CANCER CELLS AND HEALTHY ONES.

MCCULLOCH: The canine's ability to smell is astounding. You can measure their accuracy and their sensitivity in a number called parts per trillion. So that would be like a few molecules in an Olympic-sized swimming pool, just to give a sense of scale. The dog's sense of smell is anywhere between 10,000 to 100,000 times more sensitive than a human's sense of smell.

AT THIS NON-PROFIT RESEARCH CENTER, DOGS ARE TAUGHT HOW TO TELL THEIR HANDLERS WHEN THEY DETECT CANCER IN BREATH SAMPLES.

MCCULLOCH: In the training room, we have five stations in a row on the floor. And one of those stations will contain a breath sample from a woman who's been diagnosed with ovarian cancer.

MCCULLOCH: At the point the dog passes the sample station where there's a breath sample from a woman with ovarian cancer, we then ask the dog to sit and give a food reward.

MCCULLOCH: Later in the training, we take away the treat, and we see whether the dog can do it. All by themselves.

THE DOGS HAVE SHOWN OVER AND OVER THAT THEY CAN DO IT - SENSING AND SINGLING OUT THE MALIGNANT SAMPLES WITH DOCUMENTED SUCCESS.

ONE THEORY IS THEY MAY BE DETECTING CHEMICAL MARKERS SUCH AS ALKANES AND BENZENE DERIVATIVES IN EXHALED BREATH. IN 2007, THE FOUNDATION PUBLISHED ITS RESULTS IN THE MEDICAL JOURNAL, "INTEGRATIVE CANCER THERAPIES."

MCCULLOCH: In our last project, which we were working with people who have breast cancer and lung cancer, //, the dogs were accurate anywhere between 88 and 100%. In lung cancer, it was closer to you know, 99 to 100% of the time.

MCCULLOCH: One thing that may be going on here is that dogs may be watching us and watching out for us better than we're watching out for them.

TODAY, AT THE UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA, DAVIS, SCHOOL OF VETERINARY MEDICINE, A LOT OF PEOPLE ARE WATCHING OUT FOR DOGS.

DR. SKORUPSKI: My primarily job and my primary training is as a clinician a doctor to dogs and cats and my specialty is in cancer. Which is the leading cause of death in dogs today. In some purebred dogs up to half of them will die. Some lines of dogs much higher than half of them will die from cancer, and so our, our first and primary goal is to provide the highest quality of veterinary care and treatment, diagnosis of cancer that's possible.

BUT EVEN IN THIS SITUATION, DOGS MAY ONCE AGAIN BE SERVING PEOPLE - SPECIFICALLY PEOPLE SUFFERING FROM CANCER.

DR. TUSCANO: I think that there is a unique relationship between the veterinary oncology program and the human oncology program.

DR. TUSCANO: There's a wealth of information, it's a, it's a win-win situation not only for the patients but also, again, for the faculty, students, all involved

THE DOGS BEING TREATED AT THE VETERINARY ONCOLOGY CENTER MAY PLAY A PIVOTAL ROLE FOR HUMAN CANCER RESEARCH BEING CONDUCTED AT THE RENOWNED UC-DAVIS CANCER CENTER. THIS TYPE OF COLLABORATION IS CALLED COMPARATIVE ONCOLOGY.

DR. TUSCANO: In order to bring a drug to human patients, we have to test is in animals first. And those animal, quote, models of cancer are typically rodent models and those models are very abnormal. // a drug that may work in a mouse may not work that well in a human patient.

DR. JOSEPH TUSCANO: Instead of spending enormous amounts of money and time on rodent models, many of which don't work, why don't we use patients that not only themselves will benefit, but that will better predict how those treatments will work in humans?

THESE CANINE PATIENTS ARE GIVEN ACCESS TO DRUGS AND CANCER TREATMENTS THAT WOULD OTHERWISE BE UNAVAILABLE TO THEM.

DR. TUSCANO: And that will allow us to develop better therapies, not only for the veterinary patients but also for human patients as well.

IT TURNS OUT DOGS ARE VERY GOOD MODELS FOR STUDYING HUMAN DISEASE FOR A NUMBER OF REASONS.

DR. SKORUPSKI: Dogs get almost all of the same cancers that people get. Most commonly we see lymphoma, a non-Hodgkin's lymphoma also commonly diagnosed in people and bone cancer. Bone cancer's particularly interesting to us because of the fact that it's more common actually in dogs than it is in people and so it's really hard to study in people.

IN ADDITION, DOGS LIVE WITH US AND THEREFORE ARE EXPOSED TO THE SAME DAY-TO-DAY ENVIRONMENTAL INFLUENCES, MAKING IT EASIER TO DRAW DIRECT COMPARISONS.

DR. SKORUPSKI: The environment of our patients is the same as the humans. Also their tumors are developing spontaneously, oftentimes we don't know why they develop, which is what happens in people. And that's what makes these cancers so similar to human cancers, unlike a mouse that may be given a tumor artificially or a Petri dish which just has cancer cells living in an artificial environment.

IT'S IMPORTANT TO UNDERSTAND THAT THE DOGS AT UC DAVIS ARE NOT "LAB RATS." THESE ARE PATIENTS WHOSE HEALTH AND WELL-BEING COMES FIRST.

DR. SKORUPSKI: I consider myself a cancer researcher, but I'm a veterinarian first. And I took an oath to do no harm. And so the, the patients, their owners are my first priority in, in all accords. Certainly we think there's a lot to learn both with regard to human cancer and veterinary cancer, but we're only gonna do research that has the potential to benefit the dog first. And hopefully the human in addition.

HUMANS ALSO STAND TO BENEFIT FROM ANOTHER COMPARATIVE DOG STUDY BEING CONDUCTED BY THE NATIONAL HUMAN GENOME RESEARCH INSTITUTE. SINCE PUREBRED DOGS HAVE A LINEAGE THAT CAN BE CLEARLY TRACED OVER MULTIPLE GENERATIONS, THEY ARE STRONG CANDIDATES FOR TRACKING GENETIC DISEASE. THE HOPE IS BY STUDYING THE DNA OF DOGS, RESEARCHERS WILL BE ABLE TO IDENTIFY THE GENES RESPONSIBLE FOR CONGENITAL CANCER IN BOTH DOGS AND HUMANS.

DR. SKORUPSKI: There's a definite genetic component for certain canine cancers, There's a particular tumor type that we know is inbred into German Shepherds, it's a very rare condition in people, but it occurs, and the genetic cause of it was unknown for a very long time. Well, it turns out that using this inbred model of the dog looking at the genetics of the German Shepherd with this tumor, they were able to detect that gene first in the dog, and then they found that it was also the cause in people, which is exciting.

BUT BEHIND THE BREAKTHROUGHS ARE LIVES - HUMAN AND CANINE. ONCE A DOG HAS BEEN DIAGNOSED WITH CANCER, THE VETERINARY TEAM AT UC DAVIS JUMPS INTO ACTION WITH IMMEDIATE TREATMENT.

DR. SKORUPSKI: The cornerstones of cancer treatment in dogs are exactly the same as those in people- surgery if that's an option, chemotherapy and radiation therapy. More and more now we're also thinking immunotherapy, tumor vaccines. And we try to walk a fine line between treating them as aggressively as we can to kill as many cancer cells, but on the other hand, being conservative enough that they maintain full quality of life during treatment.

AT THE ROOT OF ALL THIS IS THE BOND SHARED BY HUMANS AND DOGS. IN A WAY, THE TREATMENT OF CANCER IN BOTH IS A CONTINUATION OF AN ANCIENT STORY - A STORY OF TWO SPECIES WHO, AFTER THOUSANDS OF YEARS, CONTINUE TO SERVE EACH OTHER WITH LOYALTY AND RESPECT.