Dogs in training at Penn to detect ovarian cancer

The University of Pennsylvania is training dogs for what could be some truly life-saving work. 

The Working Dog Center at Penn’s Veterinary School is joining with Penn’s Department of Oncology and the Monell Chemical Senses Center to train dogs to sniff out ovarian cancer.

It’s not all that different from using dogs to find bombs or drugs, says veterinarian Cynthia Otto.

“Cancers metabolize things differently, they grow differently,” she said. “We know from growing cells in a petri dish they release products that are different than normal cells.”

Otto jokes the dogs won’t be donning white coats or putting on scrubs to do their job; in fact, they won’t have direct contact with the patients.

“They are screening samples from people, so they will be working in a laboratory setting,” she said. “I think when people think of cancer-detection dogs, they think the dog would come up and sniff me … and I personally wouldn’t like that.”

Two chocolate labs and a springer spaniel will help calibrate electronic sniffers as part of the study. They need to do this with machines because they can’t train enough dogs to do all the work

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