Dogs’ nose for cancer re­search

Hamilton Press - - FRONT PAGE - AARON LEAMAN

A Waikato Univer­sity aca­demic has se­cured a six-fig­ure grant to study whether dogs can de­tect lung cancer from breath and saliva sam­ples.

Dr Ti­mothy Ed­wards, a se­nior lec­turer in psy­chol­ogy, has been awarded a $233,607 grant from the Health Re­search Coun­cil of New Zealand.

Ed­wards’ work ex­am­in­ing how scent-de­tec­tion dogs can be used for lung cancer screen­ing was given a kick­start in 2017 when he re­ceived a $30,000 grant from the Waikato Med­i­cal Re­search Foun­da­tion.

The new grant will fund 36 months of re­search.

‘‘Be­cause of the Waikato Med­i­cal Re­search fund­ing, we can now hit the ground run­ning,’’ Ed­wards said.

To date, Ed­wards and his team have col­lected breath and saliva sam­ples for sniff­ing and re­cruited a squad of dogs. New dogs will be added to the ros­ter.

Train­ing the dogs with the breath and saliva sam­ples is ex­pected to start in the next two months.

Ed­wards’ re­search uses an au­to­mated ca­nine scent­de­tec­tion ap­pa­ra­tus. The dogs put their muz­zles in the de­vice and sniff a sam­ple.

If the dog holds its muz­zle inside for a cer­tain length of time, it’s re­garded as a pos­i­tive in­di­ca­tion.

Ed­wards said the saliva and breath sam­ples had been sourced from peo­ple visit­ing the Waikato DHB’s res­pi­ra­tory clinic.

Ed­wards said there was a de­mand for cheaper and less in­tru­sive ways of screen­ing for lung cancer.

Sev­eral stud­ies around the world had shown dogs’ abil­ity to iden­tify cancer but few had mass in­volved meth­ods that could be used in a clin­i­cal set­ting.

Ed­wards has pre­vi­ously worked in Tan­za­nia study­ing the abil­ity of gi­ant African pouched rats to de­tect tu­ber­cu­lo­sis.

The hope is Ed­wards’ re­search can help the de­vel­op­ment of ma­chine-based sen­sor tech­nol­ogy.

Waikato Univer­sity se­nior psy­chol­ogy lec­turer Dr Ti­mothy Ed­wards and his dog Tui.

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