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Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service
U.S. Department of Agriculture

Sniffing Out Disease


Sniffing Out Disease

photo of a sniffing mouseAs early as 2003, dogs were trained to sniff out cancer in humans. Scientists noticed that diseased cells create a scent not present in healthy cells, and that dogs have the ability to detect the scent.

NWRC researchers and their partners at Monell Chemical Senses Center (Monell) are building upon this knowledge to create new diagnostic tools that use odor as a means to detect disease.

NWRC Research Chemist Dr. Bruce Kimball and Monell scientists recently trained mice to use odor to identify feces collected from ducks infected with low-pathogenic avian influenza. The mice distinguished between infected and uninfected feces more than 90 percent of the time. These results indicate that yet-to-be-identified volatile compound(s) are indicators of infection.

Furthermore, these results suggest that animal and instrumental tools can be developed for identifying infected animals or populations. The same behavioral system used for training mice as sensor animals could be used to train dogs for environmental screening, while the same odorants used by the mice for discrimination could be monitored by advanced analytical chemistry techniques.

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