Man’s Best Friend and Potent Medical Ally

  • October 12, 2017

    Man’s Best Friend and Potent Medical Ally

    WRITTEN BY: Brian GM Durie MD

Blogs Posts

The fundamental principle of the IMF’s Black Swan Research Initiative® is that we open every door and turn over every stone in the search for a cure. As it turns out, one of the stones to turn over is close to home. Dogs can smell cancer.

In measuring MRD (minimal residual disease) in myeloma patients, we were thrilled with a sensitivity level of one in one million using both next-generation flow (NGF) and next-generation sequencing (NGS) technology! We can really pick up a very low level of residual myeloma in the bone marrow. However, dogs’ sense of smell is much more sensitive, able to detect cancer at the incredibly low level of one in a trillion cells! Could dogs detect very, very low levels of active myeloma? While we don’t yet know conclusively, the answer is quite possibly yes.

First clue of dogs’ cancer-detecting skills

Evidence that dogs might be able to detect cancer occurred in 1989. A woman’s pet Labrador kept sniffing a lump on her leg so persistently that she went to the doctor for a check-up. The worrisome lesion was a melanoma cancer. This episode has led to several studies since then, all confirming that dogs can be trained to detect and diagnose cancer of different types at an early stage with remarkable accuracy – in the 90% range or better. Myeloma has not been a part of any trials so far, but it is likely that a “sniffer” trial including myeloma could start soon in the UK.

Is this a reasonable idea or just an interesting distraction? Well, it turns out the science of smell is truly amazing. Dogs, especially German and Australian Shepherds, Lab mixes, and Beagles, are excellent sniffers! I also know from personal experience that Cocker Spaniels (as well as pigs) are excellent at finding truffles many feet below the ground. Dogs can smell a drop of blood in an Olympic-size swimming pool.

If you really want to go for the world’s record, grizzly bears are said to be able to smell food (an animal carcass, for example) from as much as 20 miles away. But a grizzly bear cancer detection center does NOT seem like a workable plan.

High level of receptors

The exact mechanisms enabling dogs (and other animals) to have such sensitivity to smell are still being investigated. Theories include detection of individual molecular shapes (one out of a trillion) by the high level of receptors in a dog’s nostril, or even some type of quantum vibrations. And researchers are attempting to determine exactly what dogs are smelling, possibly the volatile organic compounds (VOCs) released by cancer cells.

Although machines may ultimately be able to detect such VOCs and to measure exact levels of the chemicals, dogs are a much more easily available, and provide an undeniably easier, cheaper, and friendlier option. Let’s look forward to a “myeloma sniffer clinic” to tell us if patents are in a deep remission! An added category for the response criteria: DG (dog negative).

Cheaper version of the iWatch?

In the MRD detection world we are always looking for the bottom of the iceberg — no more myeloma. Well, in the dog world, the ability to detect cancer is just the tip of the iceberg. Dogs can do many things to help us humans. As service dogs, they can emotionally stabilize patients (especially children) undergoing cancer treatment, as well as those suffering from severe PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). They can also warn of imminent changes in medical status, such as low blood sugar or possible seizure – perhaps a cheaper version of the Apple iWatch. A recent report shows how treating man’s best friends when the pets themselves get cancer can also guide human treatments. This is certainly much better than animal research experiments.

So, let’s not ignore what animals can do to improve the mental and physical health of humans. Our much-loved pets are truly amazing. I promise to share any updates about a multiple myeloma “sniffer clinic.”

Dr. Durie sincerely appreciates and reads all comments left here. However, he cannot answer specific medical questions and encourages readers to contact the trained IMF InfoLine staff instead. Specific medical questions posted here will be forwarded to the IMF InfoLine. Questions sent to the InfoLine are answered with input from Dr. Durie and/or other scientific advisors and IMWG members as appropriate, but will not be posted here. To contact the IMF InfoLine, call 800-452-CURE, toll-free in the US and Canada, or send an email to InfoLine hours are 9 am to 4 pm PT. Thank you.



I just have to voice my strong agreement with the notion that dogs can detect cancer. I know that mine did!

In July of 2013, I was identified as having myeloma markers. After bone marrow biopsy and several other tests, I was told I had smoldering myeloma, and I would have blood work done every three months to keep an eye on things. In January of the following year, I went for another set of labs, and during the 3 or 4 days while awaiting the results, my dog (Ladybug) started acting very differently towards me. She insisted on sleeping on the bed right next to me, something she had never done before. I remarked to my husband, “Hmm, I wonder if she knows something WE don’t know (about my results.) Sure enough, when I met with my doctor, my IgG had leapt from 2930 to 6280, and my M Spike was at 4.1.

And yes, she is the most amazing comfort and source of joy. We’re so glad we have her!

Thanks for the fun blogpost.

Cindy R.

Dear Cindy,

Thank you for this interesting and helpful feedback!

Dogs are amazing 

Dr. Brian Durie 

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