Arny Ferrando, Ph.D.
As the primary investigator (PI) of this study, my previous experiences in canine search and rescue have helped me to realize the amazing capabilities of a scent-trained dog. Our progression through this project has helped me to realize yet another important service that canines can perform for humanity. Virtually everyone has a family member, or someone close to them, who has been affected by cancer. It has unfortunately become an accepted fact of life. However, many of these losses could have been avoided had the cancer been accurately detected at an earlier stage. The olfactory capability of the canine is second to none in the animal world, and further, the symbiotic relationship that man has formed with the dog is quite unique. Capitalizing on this inimitable relationship, we believe that the canine is capable of serving mankind in another vital capacity - the detection of human cancers.
Our recently published work demonstrated that rescue dogs were 97% accurate in discriminating the presence of cancer in the urine of thyroid cancer patients. In our innovative recent work, the dog examined new patient urine and blood samples. To date, the dog’s answers agreed with clinical diagnosis in 33 out of 36 samples (91.6% accuracy). These results are highly encouraging since up to 25% of initial clinical diagnosis are inaccurate or indeterminate. We have assembled a unique multidisciplinary team capable of performing this and future work. An important member of our team is derived from a collaborative partnership with the Canine Performance Sciences (CPS) division of the Auburn University College of Veterinary Medicine. Through our combined and standardized methodology, we will develop a prototype operational system for sample screening of thyroid cancer by dogs. We will also compare the results of general-sourced dogs (privately owned; working or service dogs; rehabilitated shelter dogs) studied at UAMS, to purpose-sourced dogs (bred and raised for maximal potential as detector dogs) studied at Auburn/CPS. This work will not only assist in the diagnosis of thyroid cancer, but also provide a template for other cancer types that are hard to diagnose (i.e., ovarian, colorectal, pancreatic).
Why is this important?
This work will systematically investigate the efficacy of utilizing trained canines in the diagnosis of cancers from patient body fluids. This work begins in a very difficult to diagnose cancer, thyroid, and will serve as a template for other cancer types that are difficult to diagnose and more deadly (i.e., ovarian, colorectal, pancreatic, breast). Most importantly, we have assembled a "once-in-a-lifetime" medical and scientific team capable of advancing the field of canine cancer detection far beyond previous efforts. Our team includes a thyroid specialist, an ENT surgeon willing to provide fresh tissue samples at the time of resection, a cell biologist, world-class experts in canine scent training, and a scientific support staff.
Who will benefit?
Most immediately, all patients with thyroid nodules would benefit from improved diagnostic accuracy. In particular, those patients whose clinical diagnosis is indeterminate and are forced to consider having (potentially unnecessary) surgery. We anticipate that our work with canine detection of thyroid cancer will serve as a template for improved detection of other, more deadly forms of cancer, and potentially all patients with a pre-disposition to, or initial evidence of, cancer will benefit.