A 2008, researchers led by György Horvath MD, PhD, found that dogs could be trained to literally sniff out cancer. In their study, the researchers were able to train dogs to distinguish different types and grades of ovarian cancer, including borderline tumors. Horvath, together with professor Thomas Linblad from KTH Royal Institute of Technology and researcher Jose Chilo from Gävle University, has now created an electronic nose that can accomplish the same task.

Even when Horvath first confirmed that dogs could be trained to distinguish between ovarian cancer tissues and both normal healthy abdominal tissue and gynecological tissue, he realized that they couldn’t be used in clinical practice as they could be influenced in their work, which would compromise their accuracy. However, it was obvious to the researchers that the dog’s ability to detect specific odors related to malignancy could eventually lead to effective tools and methods for early cancer detection.

Horvath, from the Sahlgrenska Academy, and researchers from the University of Gävle and KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Sweden, worked on detecting the cancer scent using an existing electronic nose at KTH. The basic structure was the same as existing electronic noses, but the researchers added several new components to increase its sensitivity.

“We’ve managed to detect and register the scent from a form of ovarian cancer, and the scent from a healthy Fallopian tube and healthy womb muscle,” says Horvath. “This technical confirmation of a cancer scent will have major practical implications – a sufficiently sensitive and specific method could save hundreds of lives a year in Sweden alone.”

“Our goal is to be able to screen blood samples from apparently healthy women and so detect ovarian cancer at an early stage when it can still be cured,” Horvath added.

The study detailing the different scents emitted by ovarian cancer cells and healthy tissue appears in the June 2010 edition of the journal Future Oncology.