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Get Pink: Cancer detecting dogs are saving lives

(KOKH/FILE)

Dogs can save a life with just their nose and the 300 million sensors in it.

Linda Konrad with Good Canine Academy of Texas has been working with and training dogs for over 40 years. She also runs Cancer Sniffing Dogs of Texas and Oklahoma.

She describes the sensitivity of a dogs nose as "its kind of like being able to walk in and we smell cake and they smell all the ingredients in the cake." Those extremely sensitive snouts are the next tool in helping sniff out all different types of cancer, including breast cancer.

"Cancer actually has an odor, and each cancer has a different odor," Konrad said.

The In Situ Foundation in California is pioneering cancer sniffing dog training. Founder Dina Zaphiris has recruited about 50 trainers across the globe, like Konrad, to train the dogs using positive reinforcement. Basically, if they correctly detect the cancerous sample among benign ones, they get a treat.

"When they actually smell the cancer, they will alert us and we try to teach them to do a sit at that particular time," Konrad said.

Experts do say there is one small problem. The dogs can't tell us exactly what they are smelling. That's where University of Oklahoma George Lynn Cross Research Professor Patrick McCann comes in. He's been in the electrical engineering filed for decades.

"If we knew what the molecules were, we can build an instrument to measure those molecules," McCann said.

McCann and a small team of students are working to build a portable laser based machine that would be like a breathalyzer. Professor McCann says research shows dogs can certainly detect cancer at an almost 100% accuracy rate. But, this machine would help us figure out each type of cancer's smell, and measure the effectiveness of cancer treatment.

"I think the first impact you would get better treatment. You'd get better drugs, more accurate treatment, more specific treatment and better survival," McCann said.

Right now, Professor McCann says the only way to figure out if treatments got all the cancer out of the body is through a PET scan, which he says, "involves a radioactive injections, involves X-Ray imaging, it's hazardous to the patient and it's expensive."

Professor McCann is currently still in the funding phase of his research, He is trying to secure $10,000 to purchase that laser and continue his research. The In Situ Foundation, including trainers like Linda Konrad say they need more samples, both cancerous and benign, to be able to train more dogs. They hope to hold a nationwide drive in the near future.

For more information on the In Situ Foundation, click here.

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