It could be said that Pauline Blomfield has gone to the dogs but it is all for a good cause.
Mrs Blomfield, who heads K9 Medical Detection New Zealand (K9MD), spoke to about 100 people at a Soroptimist International of Gore ovarian cancer research fundraiser at Hawthorn Den Inn on Sunday.
K9MD is training eight dogs to detect several types of cancer in human urine samples so the dogs can be used as a diagnostic tool to enhance cancer treatment.
Her journey started with the realisation that if dogs were used to detect drugs, explosives and other substances why could they not be used to detect cancer, Mrs Blomfield said.
‘‘I’ve been involved and worked with dogs for about 40 years and they have kept me very humble.
‘‘I was continually amazed at their ability.’’
After talking to health professionals, who agreed dogs could be used to detect disease, she started to explore the possibility.
The part of a dog’s brain used to analyse smell is 40 times larger than a human’s.
‘‘Everything about a dog’s nose is designed to give them a kind of superpower and this superpower has the potential to save lives.’’
Dogs had on average 225 million sense receptors in their nose whereas humans had 5 million.
Their sense of smell is so sensitive that they can detect scents of 1-2 parts per trillion.
Dogs have the ability to smell different odours within an odour.
They also used urine to communicate with each other which was why dogs often stopped to sniff at a tree.
‘‘We use emails to communicate— they use pee mails.’’
Every day in New Zealand 71 people were diagnosed with cancer.
‘‘People do not know they’re suffering from a disease unless they start exhibiting symptoms,’’ Mrs Blomfield said.
Cancer gave off an odour called volatile organic compounds.
‘‘If these odours could be detected before clinical signs of the disease are present it would be possible to minimise the spread of the disease [and] identify those patients with the disease.’’
K9MD research was proving that dogs could be trained to identify these volatile compounds in human urine.
‘‘At the end of the day we are dogs and science working together.’’
While some research had been completed overseas in the use of dogs to detect cancer, what was happening at AgResearch was groundbreaking.
Robust New Zealand research was needed before the dogs could be used within the New Zealand health system as another test for cancer.
Lack of finance was one of the barriers to the work being completed as K9MD did not receive any government funding.