A man’s best friend is starting to play a significant role in finding a cure for cancer. Dogs possess an astounding sense of smell. Studies show that a dog’s sense of smell can actually detect lung cancer in humans. This also extends to the potential early detection of mesothelioma. Mesothelioma is a lethal type of cancer. The most prevalent type of mesothelioma affects the lungs and is known as pleural mesothelioma. As with any disease, early detection offers patients the best chance of survival.
Comparative Oncology and Animal Studies
Comparative oncology, sometimes referred to as translational oncology, is different from traditional laboratory research. Specifically, traditional animal research typically deals with rodents; however, comparative oncology studies other animals and dogs fall into this category. Dr. Kristen Weishaar is a veterinarian at Flint Animal Cancer Center at Colorado State University practices comparative oncology. She explained, “[w]hen we do research on cancer in mice and rats, those are tumors that are given to those animals,” where the cancerous cells are physically injected into the animals. She added, “…we can test drugs and things like that on those tumors.”
While this method has provided a lot of useful information, comparative oncology predominantly focuses on “spontaneous cancers.” Canines develop certain cancers in the same way that people do. This development occurs naturally over an undetermined period of time without any injection by a researcher to initiate a cancerous growth.
The National Cancer Institute (NCI) of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) have conducted studies that would help both human and canine subjects. Toby Hecht, Ph.D., is the deputy director at the NCI’s Division of Cancer Treatment and Diagnosis. He oversees the studies and clinical trials. He believes that the dogs are not merely “lab animals,” but they are their patients.
The clinical trials have been successful in providing insight into how the treatment of cancers in dogs can be translated to the treatment in humans. The cancer treatments in dogs have been found to be safe, effective, and have often worked well in humans too.
How Dog Studies Benefit Humans
One of the most notable studies was conducted in 2015 in a clinical trial that tested an experimental drug called NHS-IL12 in dogs with melanoma. The study’s purpose was to determine the drug’s side effects, chemistry, mechanism of action, and optimal dose. The study concluded that the drug successfully shrank tumors in two of the canine patients.
Don’t Stop Retrievin’
A 2019 research project performed by Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine (LECOM) found that beagles can detect lung cancer with a 97% accuracy. This is not surprising because, as the study noted, “[d]ogs’ sense of smell is at least 10,000 times stronger than that of humans; specifically, beagles have 225 million olfactory receptors compared to humans’ 5 million receptors.” This study focused on bone cancer; however, lung cancer has a lot of similarities to pleural mesothelioma.
Early detection that is noninvasive and cost-effective also improves a patient’s quality of life. Taking an early diagnosis makes for a more promising prognosis.