Thursday, March 8, 2012

Machines May Replace Dogs Who Can Detect Cancer From a Patient’s Breath – Fido is Not Going to be Happy

What, Your Dog Cannot Diagnose Lung Cancer? - Ours Can

The list of things that are unknown to The Dismal Political Economist is huge, it would fill even the largest of hard drives.  But now one item can be struck form that list, namely the fact that dogs can detect cancer by sniffing your breath.  No, we’re not making this up.

A few years ago researchers in California received widespread attention for showing that dogs can smell cancer on a human’s breath. With 99 percent accuracy the canines could detect if a person had lung or breast cancer, beating the best figures from standard laboratory tests. Subsequent studies confirmed the results and provided further evidence that dogs really are man’s best friend.

Metabolomx's machine requires patients to breathe in and out of a tube for four minutes
Thanks Anyway, But I'll Go With the Dog

Okay, the cancer problem is solved.  Stick your face in front of the dog, exhale a couple of times and wait for the dog to pronounce you dead or alive.  But know, even though there is a low cost solution to cancer detection, the medical profession just won’t accept it.

The problem with cancer-detecting dogs is that, well, they’re dogs. Hospitals haven’t embraced the idea of a diagnostic tool that poops, barks, and requires feeding. 

So now it turns out that based on dog technology man will be inventing a machine that duplicates what the common dog can do, analyze breath.

The Metabolomx machine looks like a desktop PC with a hose attached. It sits on a cart that can be wheeled up to a patient, who is instructed to breathe in and out for about four minutes. The machine analyzes the breath and its volatile organic compounds, or VOCs—aerosolized molecules that, among other things, determine how something smells. Tumors produce their own VOCs, which pass into the bloodstream. The lungs create a bridge between the bloodstream and airways, so the breath exhaled by a patient will carry the VOC signatures of a tumor if one is present. “It may seem surprising, but it’s actually very straightforward,” says Paul Rhodes, the co-founder and chief executive officer at Metabolomx.

Of course, so far nothing can match the dog’s ability to detect cancer, and but the machine is better in some areas.

Dr. Peter Mazzone, a lung cancer expert at the Cleveland Clinic, recently published results from a trial he ran with an early version of the Metabolomx machine. He studied 229 people and found that the machine could detect lung cancer more than 80 percent of the time. Just as intriguing, the machine outdid the dogs by distinguishing between different forms of lung cancer with about 85 percent accuracy, giving the doctor insight into whether a patient had an aggressive case. The goal now is to use a far more sensitive, updated version of the machine in new trials and see if it can get to 93 percent accuracy—a figure doctors say would make the device viable for widespread use.

But nobody is working on the credibility problem.  When you visit your doctor and say your dog has detected lung cancer, you are instantly believable.  But no reputable medical person is going to trust a machine if it comes up with the same conclusion.

So far the uses of the machine are limited, but very practical.  For example suppose you think that Starbucks has not filled your order correctly.

Suslick’s technology can even tell the difference between various Starbucks blends, while also disclosing that Folgers decaf smells almost identical to original Maxwell House.

well now you have a way to call them out. 

As for The Dismal Political Economist, he is going to stick with the dog’s opinion.  After all his dog has never been sued for medical malpractice, while his regular physician is in court all the time.

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