DURHAM, Calif. - There's a new dog in town, but he isn't your average pup! 'Enloe' the Labrador will soon be trained to sniff cancer.
"The early warning system, the dog's ability to find it at this tiny, tiny stage because of their incredibly powerful nose really gives us a lot of possibility and hope," explained Founder and CEO of the In Situ Foundation, Dina Zaphiris.
For many years, the In Situ Foundation has developed medical protocols for the selection, handling and training of canines for early cancer detection. A partnership between the In Situ Foundation and the Enloe Medical Center brought Enloe the dog to the Northstate.
"Every time we do a study, we call them replication studies or validation studies and we use a new team of dogs each time," Zaphiris explained.
Enloe will be the 51st dog successfully trained by the In Situ Foundation to sniff cancer from DNA samples of those with the disease.
"We take samples, so we use exhaled breath condensate, saliva, sputum, we can use urine samples, even perspiration," said Zaphiris. "So the dogs are detecting the compounds in the waste product from a cancer patient."
She also added that Enloe will be trained to be highly sensitive and specific, meaning he'll be able to tell if the cancer is there and when it isn't. "Where as a mammogram just says 'lump' and we don't know whether it's cancer or not," she compared.
Monday night, Enloe moved into Traci and Jeff Hunt's home in Durham. A good fit, since both have battled and survived cancer. "Just to be in on a part of something that could potentially change how screening is done or what the impact of early detection can have on saving people's lives," said Traci of why she volunteered to adopt Enloe.
The idea of the training isn't for dogs to replace machines, but to learn to smell the cancer significantly earlier.
"It really feels possible that we can eradicate it, within maybe, a few decades," said Mike Wiltermood, CEO and President of Enloe Medical Center. "So it's really exciting to think about."
The training process will take up to 18 months, so Enloe has a lot of work ahead of him.
"It starts with little tiny games and then pretty soon in a few weeks we're going show him his first cancer sample," said Zaphiris. "[Then] boom! When the reward happens for that first cancer sample, okay let's find that one again!"
Enloe Medical Center said it's involvement is focused on helping Zahiris increase the number of trainers who teach dogs how to sniff cancer, resulting in more studies around the world to further her research in the medical community.