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We've heard about rescue dogs and how their amazing tracking abilities have found lost people and saved lives. But did you ever imagine that dogs could be trained to sniff out cancer?
In Tallahassee, a dermatologist teamed up with retired police sergeant and dog trainer Duane Pickel in an experiment to train a police dog to sniff out melanoma cells. The dog's name is George, a former bomb-sniffing standard schnauzer who once worked with the Tallahassee police force.
The researchers first trained George to recognize the cancer cells in a test tube, then under bandages on a person's body, and finally in volunteer patients who had cancer. After being given the command "show me," George would sniff around the patient and finally place his paw on the tumor location. After being trained, George was able to sniff out cancer in a person's body with close to 100 percent accuracy.
The idea to train George originated in a letter written by two doctors to a British medical journal. The doctors said that a patient came to them to have a mole removed because her dog wouldn't stop sniffing it. It turned out to be malignant, a melanoma of a particularly fast-growing strain. The doctors removed it; the dog's early warning saved her life. It occurred to the doctors that the dog was able to smell the cancer.
"Dogs can smell infinitely better than humans," says Pickel. "In fact, dogs smell much better than the best man-made odor-detecting machines. The best machine we have to date can detect 1 part per billion of an odor. A dog can scent out 1 part per quadrillion."
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