Clinical Epidemiology and Ageing

Remote Medical Scent Detection of Cancer and Infectious Diseases With Dogs and Rats: A Systematic Review.

Bauër P, Leemans M, Audureau E, Gilbert C, Armal C, Fromantin I Integr Cancer Ther. 2022;21:15347354221140516.

BACKGROUND: Remote medical scent detection of cancer and infectious diseases with dogs and rats has been an increasing field of research these last 20 years. If validated, the possibility of implementing such a technique in the clinic raises many hopes. This systematic review was performed to determine the evidence and performance of such methods and assess their potential relevance in the clinic.

METHODS: Pubmed and Web of Science databases were independently searched based on PRISMA standards between 01/01/2000 and 01/05/2021. We included studies aiming at detecting cancers and infectious diseases affecting humans with dogs or rats. We excluded studies using other animals, studies aiming to detect agricultural diseases, diseases affecting animals, and others such as diabetes and neurodegenerative diseases. Only original articles were included. Data about patients' selection, samples, animal characteristics, animal training, testing configurations, and performances were recorded.

RESULTS: A total of 62 studies were included. Sensitivity and specificity varied a lot among studies: While some publications report low sensitivities of 0.17 and specificities around 0.29, others achieve rates of 1 sensitivity and specificity. Only 6 studies were evaluated in a double-blind screening-like situation. In general, the risk of performance bias was high in most evaluated studies, and the quality of the evidence found was low.

CONCLUSIONS: Medical detection using animals' sense of smell lacks evidence and performances so far to be applied in the clinic. What odors the animals detect is not well understood. Further research should be conducted, focusing on patient selection, samples (choice of materials, standardization), and testing conditions. Interpolations of such results to free running detection (direct contact with humans) should be taken with extreme caution. Considering this synthesis, we discuss the challenges and highlight the excellent odor detection threshold exhibited by animals which represents a potential opportunity to develop an accessible and non-invasive method for disease detection.

MeSH terms: Animals; Communicable Diseases; Dogs; Humans; Neoplasms; Odorants; Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic; Rats; Smell
DOI: 10.1177/15347354221140516