This is a great story:
British researchers have trained dogs to detect bladder cancer by sniffing human urine, opening up the possibility that dogs – or electronic noses modeled on their snouts – may one day be used to detect the disease.
The study, published in the British medical journal BMJ on Saturday, is the first to demonstrate scientifically that dogs can detect cancer through smell, its authors said.
Animals. Diseases of the rich. What more could you ask for in a news item? I agree that sex, celebrities, bad behaviour by an American Presidential candidate, Nazis and football are all absent, but several of these themes could be woven into this yarn in due course.
At the risk of being accused of saying that Chinese people are dogs, which is not at all what I am trying to say, I have long understood that Chinese doctors use smell – of urine, breath and so on – as a major diagnostic tool. So it does not surprise me a bit that dogs, with their famously keen sense of smell, might have a lot to contribute to medicine. This is not a “How very odd” story. It is not odd at all. I am only surprised that no one has thought to study this possibility sooner. I suppose such research depends on moderately cheap diagnosis by other means to be researchable without enormous expense. On the other hand, if the other diagnostic methods were already very cheap, there would be no need to bother with dogs.
My favourite bit of this New York Times report is this one:
In an intriguing side note to the British study, all six of the dogs detected cancer in the urine of a man who was thought to be cancer-free and was used as a control. When he was tested further, he was found to have a kidney tumor, and his life was saved.
That is the best sort of scientific evidence: the killer (to use a wildly inappropriate metaphor) anecdote.