18-18 Segment 1: Using Animals to Sniff Out Disease

RHJ_18-18A Social Media


With all the medical advancements humans have accomplished, it may be hard to believe but some animals are capable of a task that medical technology has yet to achieve; smell disease.

Dogs have been known to sense low blood sugar in diabetic owners. In research projects, dogs have been trained to detect prostate cancer in urine and lung cancer in breath samples. What makes them able to achieve such a feat?

Dr. Cindy Otto is the Executive Director of the Penn Vet Working Dog Center, located at the University of Pennsylvania. She explains that dogs are able to focus on specific scents, similar to how humans can use vision to focus on subtle changes in the environment. These talents are based on the unique ability to block out extraneous stimuli. Otto says the ultimate goal is for diagnostic machines to ‘sniff’ out the same scents animals have been trained to identify. She also hopes that scientists, using the same technology, will be able to create readily available, inexpensive diagnostic tests on a massive scale.

In Mozambique and Tanzania, a very different type of animal puts their diagnostic talents to the test. Large rats are tasked with detecting tuberculosis in humans. Dr. Christiaan Mulder, the director of Apopo, a TB program based in Belgium, says rats are much more efficient and cheaper than laboratory tests. The rats are said to rule out about 80% of the healthy individuals, saving time and money compared to laboratory tests that can take days to rule out individuals one by one.

Dr. Gary Beauchamp, Emeritus Director and President of Monell Chemical Senses Center, says there’s a lot of skepticism when it comes to using animals to detect disease. Although he points out that dogs are relied upon to detect explosives, find drugs, and track missing humans. So should we trust animals with this crucial job? It would be up to the FDA to approve any animal-based diagnosis and many agree that a technological simulation of the skill should be the ultimate goal.


  • Dr. Cindy Otto, Executive Director, Penn Vet Working Dog Center, University of Pennsylvania
  • Dr. Gary Beauchamp, Emeritus Director and President, Monell Chemical Senses Center
  • Dr. Christiaan Mulder, Director, TB program, Apopo

Links for more information:

Share this:

Stay in the loop! Follow us on Twitter and like us on Facebook! Subscribe and review on iTunes!

16-17 Segment 1: Using Animals To Sniff Out Disease

16-17A Dog Smelling Hand


Synopsis: Diseases apparently have distinctive odors that humans can’t detect. Researchers are using dogs, mice, rats and other animals to literally sniff out cancer and other diseases in the laboratory. In the 3rd World, rats are used to diagnose TB. Experts discuss the use of animals to diagnose disease and their efforts to build machines that can do the same thing.

Stay in the loop! Follow us on Twitter and like us on Facebook!

Subscribe and review on iTunes!

Click here for guest information, audio and the transcript

15-22 Segment 2: The Science of Smell


Synopsis: The sense of smell evokes powerful memories and makes food taste good, but it also has important functions in interpersonal relations and personal safety. Experts discuss the science behind it.

Host: Nancy Benson. Guests: Dr. Charles Wysocki, Behavioral Neuroscientist Emeritus, Monell Chemical Senses Center; Neil Pasricha, author, The Book of Awesome

Link for more information:

Click here for the transcript