Page last updated at 14:51 GMT, Sunday, 4 January 2009

Rescue dog will sniff out cancer

Casper sniffing a specimen
Casper is trained to recognise the scent of cancer cells in urine

A rescue dog from Oxfordshire is being trained by a medical charity in Buckinghamshire to sniff out cancer.

Spaniel puppy Casper had been living in the Blue Cross animal centre in Burford for months but was continually passed over because of his boundless energy.

This made him perfect for scientists looking for dogs for their project.

Now Casper is being taught to recognise the scent of cancer from urine samples. It is hoped this will lead to earlier diagnosis and save more lives.

Claire Guest chief executive of Cancer and Bio-detection Dogs, based in Aylesbury, said: "Chances are lower for dogs like Casper to find a home as he has a very high drive and is incredibly energetic and bouncy.

"It can make them disruptive in the home but it makes Casper perfect for us."

It's like trying to recognise a certain ingredient in a soup
Claire Guest, Cancer and Bio-detection Dogs

Dogs have already been known to be able to smell cancer cells.

A north Oxfordshire man credited his pet Rottweiller with sniffing out his skin cancer in November last year. But the the scenting skills of cancer dogs are even more delicate.

The dogs are trained to recognise cancer cells in urine samples but the researchers say the training regime is very complicated.

Ms Guest said "It's like trying to recognise a certain ingredient in a soup. There are lots and lots of soups, some have them have it, some of them don't."

It is estimated that Casper will be a working cancer dog within four months.

Beamish the Rottweiler
Beamish the Rottweiler was credited with sniffing out his owners skin cancer

The ultimate aim of the project is to introduce a medical test where people can go into a doctor and get a full medical from a urine test and a breath test.

The Cancer Dogs charity said there is already an electronic nose device that aims to identify cancer from urine samples but they are way behind the dogs "simply because their sense of smell is so advanced" and they are making "great leaps all the time", Ms Guest said.

Researchers said they want to see how the dogs work and upgrade their technology accordingly so people can have a simple non-invasive test to give them the earliest possible warning if they have cancer.

Ms Guest added: "We actually want to reduce some fear of cancer diagnosis -you hear so many people say - 'if I had it I wouldn't want to know', because they think their chance of survival is low but now with great advances in medication early diagnosis is the key to survival and cancer doesn't have to turn into a terrible tragedy.

"It's the people who don't know they've got it who don't stand a chance - that's the tragedy."

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