Tag Archives: Dog

How dogs tell sickness – can technology help us learn?

nose to nose
Image by pixieclipx via Flickr

Dogs can smell seizures, low blood sugar and heart attacks, and doctors are working to see if they can be trained to detect other diseases such as cancer. A recent study suggests we humans may soon begin to emulate their powerful scenting abilities—with technology, of course.

New hope for early diagnosis comes from an electronic nose, a version of which is already in use in the food, wine and perfume industries. It generates a pattern, or “smell print”, in response to a given odor, then researchers analyze and compare that pattern with stored patterns. They’ve developed one that can tell from a person’s exhaled breath if that person has pneumonia. Now they’re studying the e-nose in the hope they can one day make it detect ashtma and some versions of lung cancer. A test of an e-nose has already been done to detect malignant pleural mesothelioma, a rare but aggressive form of lung cancer.

I X Key _ 59 Pr
Image by I X Key via Flickr

So that’s how they can keep producing winning smells in food, wine and perfume! And here I thought it was magic—the way I used to think that music composition was the most wonderfully mysterious art of all, because I had no idea how they did it until I studied music. I remember the article in Time magazine a few decades ago that contained a dozen gorgeous abstract paintings—and explained that they’d been generated by numerical equations plugged into a computer.  It blew my mind to realize that math and art were not only not radically different but were merely two different ways of looking at the same thing.

Even as we begin to discover more and more ways to heal the human body using the gentle tools of the universe such as stem cells, rather than violating the body with cutting, assaulting tools such as surgery and chemotherapy, we can take comfort, too, in the idea that many of the mysteries of the earth might one day be translatable to and from mathematical equations.

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Exhaled breath tool may hasten Parkinson’s diagnosis

An experimental setup used to measure the frac...
Image via Wikipedia

Levels of exhaled nitric oxide can be used to gauge the severity of asthma and of mitral stenosis (see photo for experimental equipment).  Now doctors may eventually be able to tell by the composition of exhaled gases whether a patient will develop Parkinson’s Disease.

They’re calling it a “breath print” and they say it’s fairly simple to obtain. Samples, with plastic bags rigged to exclude room air from exhaled breath, can take about two minutes to get, and then they are “evaluated by a portable device containing an array of ‘nano-sensors.”

All I could think of when I was reading this report was how we are once again trying to find the secrets of nature–in this case, how a dog can tell its master is sick with certain diseases long before the person knows there’s something wrong. The dog’s nose takes its own “prints” from the smell of our breath, our skin, our body fluids, and instinctively knows things about us.

We’re already teaching dogs to recognize some of the smells we need to know about, like cancer or oncoming diabetic attacks. Now if we could just teach them to know what the smells mean—and then tell us…

Speaking of which, recently read an interesting novel written from the viewpoint of a dog who has an idea of its own “evolution.” It’s called The Art of Racing in the Rain, a quick and engaging read.

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