Cancer sniffer dogs: how can we translate this peculiarity in laboratory medicine? Results of a pilot study on gastrointestinal cancers

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Identification of cancer biomarkers to allow early diagnosis is an urgent need for many types of tumors, whose prognosis strongly depends on the stage of the disease. Canine olfactory testing for detecting cancer is an emerging field of investigation. As an alternative, here we propose to use GC-Olfactometry (GC/O), which enables the speeding up of targeted biomarker identification and analysis. A pilot study was conducted in order to determine odor-active compounds in urine that discriminate patients with gastrointestinal cancers from control samples (healthy people).


Headspace solid phase microextraction (HS-SPME)-GC/MS and GC-olfactometry (GC/O) analysis were performed on urine samples obtained from gastrointestinal cancer patients and healthy controls.


In total, 91 key odor-active compounds were found in the urine samples. Although no odor-active biomarkers present were found in cancer carrier's urine, significant differences were discovered in the odor activities of 11 compounds in the urine of healthy and diseased people. Seven of above mentioned compounds were identified: thiophene, 2-methoxythiophene, dimethyl disulphide, 3-methyl-2-pentanone, 4-(or 5-)methyl-3-hexanone, 4-ethyl guaiacol and phenylacetic acid. The other four compounds remained unknown.


GC/O has a big potential to identify compounds not detectable using untargeted GC/MS approach. This paves the way for further research aimed at improving and validating the performance of this technique so that the identified cancer-associated compounds may be introduced as biomarkers in clinical practice to support early cancer diagnosis.

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