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Dogs Are Teaching Machines How To Sniff Out Cancer Smell

Apart from being a man’s best friend, dogs may soon become mankind’s saviour, thanks to their amazing sense of smell. Since researches have proven that trained dogs can be used to detect different types of cancer by sniffing a person’s breath or urine, scientists are now planning to let dogs teach machine learning algorithms to sniff out diseases and build an electronic nose.

Electronic noses are electronic sensing devices used to detect odors but according to Andreas Mershin, a research scientist at the MIT Center for Bits and Atoms, the detection of a cancer signal by an electronic nose still can’t match the accuracy of a dog’s.

There are even untrained dogs that have been able to sniff out cancer in their owners. Moreover, there are also cases of young dogs that are trained to sniff out a certain type of cancer, who end up detecting the presence of other cancerous growth, despite the low similarity in odor among different cancer types.

This is because dogs detect things based on the scent character, which somehow allows them to figure out the cancer essence. “No analytical tool to this day can do this because it’s looking at the list of ingredients. Knowing what something is made of isn’t the same as knowing what it smells of,” says Mershin.

Credits: BBC


Mershin and his team would be using the dogs’ diagnoses to train a type of artificial intelligence called an artificial neural network (ANN) to evaluate the volatile chemicals detected from the urine samples. But for now, they’ll need to increase their sample size to boost the dogs’ cancer-detecting accuracy and then train the ANN to match this performance.

Eventually, the team’s goal is to apply its canine-trained machine algorithm to an electronic nose that contains synthetic analogs of animal olfactory receptors that they have patented, and build this electronic nose capability into smartphones.

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#cancer #dogs #machine #smell

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