Canine Mesothelioma Detections Now Being Applied to Coronavirus

Over the last few years there has been considerable optimism at the possibility that dogs could be trained to detect malignant mesothelioma and other cancers from the exhaled breath of patients suspected of having those diseases. The research has been based on identifying volatile organic compounds that are consistently found in mesothelioma patients’ breath, and which once identified could be programmed into electronic sensor technologies. Now that same technology is being applied to the COVID-19 virus that has threatened global health and economic stability.

Dogs Used to Detect Mesothelioma, Lung Cancer, and Now COVID-19

As long ago as 2012, lung cancer patients and malignant mesothelioma patients have been providing exhaled breath samples for use in training sniffer dogs to recognize commonalities. Dogs’ superior ability to detect these volatile organic compounds is thought to provide a real opportunity for early detection, and researchers at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine are focusing animals on COVID-19.

Speaking of the previously known abilities of dogs to detect cancers like mesothelioma, Cynthia Otto, professor of Working Dog Sciences and Sports Medicine and director of Penn Vet’s Working Dog Center said, “Scent detection dogs can accurately detect low concentrations of volatile organic compounds, otherwise known as VOCs, associated with various diseases such as ovarian cancer, bacterial infections, and nasal tumors. These VOCs are present in human blood, saliva, urine or breath. The potential impact of these dogs and their capacity to detect COVID-19 could be substantial. This study will harness the dog’s extraordinary ability to support the nation’s COVID-19 surveillance systems, with the goal of reducing community spread.”

Previous Studies Point to Dogs’ Unique Abilities

Months ago there were reports of beagles being used by the Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine sniffing out cancers like mesothelioma from blood serum samples, and in 2012 researchers from the University of Stuttgart published a study in the European Respiratory Journal showing that the exhaled breath of patients could be used for cancer screening. 

The University of Stuttgart researchers detailed the problem of being able to identify a clear target for breath testing, and reported that samples presented to sniffer dogs following a rigid scientific protocol pointed to remarkable results, with 71% sensitivity and 93% specificity. Though they agreed that transferring the information gathered by the dogs to available technology presented a challenge, many of those hurdles have been overcome in the intervening years.

Much of mesothelioma research depends on studies that have previously been done on other cancers, and in this case previous mesothelioma studies may assist researchers in finding solutions for COVID-19. If you or someone you love has been diagnosed with mesothelioma and you need information about diagnosis or any other resources, contact the Patient Advocates at at 1-800-692-8608.

Terri Heimann Oppenheimer

Terri Oppenheimer

Terri Heimann Oppenheimer is the head writer of our news blog. She graduated from the College of William and Mary with a degree in English. Terri believes that knowledge is power and she is committed to sharing news about the impact of mesothelioma, the latest research and medical breakthroughs, and victims’ stories.

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