Archive for September, 2014

Training Dogs to Sniff Out Cancer


Training Dogs to Sniff Out Cancer


 September 11, 2014 2:50 pmoto

McBaine, a cancer detection dog.Credit Penn Vet Working Dog Center

PHILADELPHIA — McBaine, a bouncy black and white springer spaniel, perks up and begins his hunt at the Penn Vet Working Dog Center. His nose skims 12 tiny arms that protrude from the edges of a table-size wheel, each holding samples of blood plasma, only one of which is spiked with a drop of cancerous tissue.

The dog makes one focused revolution around the wheel before halting, steely-eyed and confident, in front of sample No. 11. A trainer tosses him his reward, a tennis ball, which he giddily chases around the room, sliding across the floor and bumping into walls like a clumsy puppy.

McBaine is one of four highly trained cancer detection dogs at the center, which trains purebreds to put their superior sense of smell to work in search of the early signs of ovarian cancer. Now, Penn Vet, part of the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Veterinary Medicine, is teaming with chemists and physicists to isolate cancer chemicals that only dogs can smell. They hope this will lead to the manufacture of nanotechnology sensors that are capable of detecting bits of cancerous tissue 1/100,000th the thickness of a sheet of paper.

“We don’t ever anticipate our dogs walking through a clinic,” said the veterinarian Dr. Cindy Otto, the founder and executive director of the Working Dog Center. “But we do hope that they will help refine chemical and nanosensing techniques for cancer detection.”

Since 2004, research has begun to accumulate suggesting that dogs may be able to smell the subtle chemical differences between healthy and cancerous tissue, including bladder cancer, melanomaand cancers of the lung, breast and prostate. But scientists debate whether the research will result in useful medical applications.


Trainers tend to notice early on that certain dogs have natural talents that make them better suited for specific kinds of work.Credit Penn Vet Working Dog Center.

Dogs have already been trained to respond to diabetic emergencies, or alert passers-by if an owner is about to have a seizure. And on the cancer front, nonprofit organizations like the In Situ Foundation, based in California, and the Medical Detection Dogs charity in Britain are among a growing number of independent groups sponsoring research into the area.

A study presented at the American Urological Association’s annual meeting in May reported that two German shepherds trained at the Italian Ministry of Defense’s Military Veterinary Center in Grosseto were able to detect prostate cancer in urine with about 98 percent accuracy, far better than the prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test. But in another recent study of prostate-cancer-sniffing dogs, British researchers reported that promising initial results did not hold up in rigorous double-blind follow-up trials.

Dr. Otto first conceived of a center to train and study working dogs when, as a member of the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Urban Search and Rescue Team, she was deployed to ground zero in the hours after the Sept. 11 attacks.

“I remember walking past three firemen sitting on an I-beam, stone-faced, dejected,” she says. “But when a handler walked by with one of the rescue dogs, they lit up. There was hope.”

Today, the Working Dog Center trains dogs for police work, search and rescue and bomb detection. Their newest canine curriculum, started last summer after the center received a grant from the Kaleidoscope of Hope Foundation, focuses on sniffing out a different kind of threat: ovarian cancer.

“Ovarian cancer is a silent killer,” Dr. Otto said. “But if we can help detect it early, that would save lives like nothing else.”

Dr. Otto’s dogs are descended from illustrious lines of hunting hounds and police dogs, with noses and instincts that have been refined by generations of selective breeding. Labradors and German shepherds dominate the center, but the occasional golden retriever or springer spaniel — like McBaine — manages to make the cut.

The dogs, raised in the homes of volunteer foster families, start with basic obedience classes when they are eight weeks old. They then begin their training in earnest, with the goal of teaching them that sniffing everything — from ticking bombs to malignant tumors — is rewarding.

“Everything we do is about positive reinforcement,” Dr. Otto said. “Sniff the right odor, earn a toy or treat. It’s all one big game.”

Trainers from the center typically notice early on that certain dogs have natural talents that make them better suited for specific kinds of work. Search and rescue dogs must be tireless hunters, unperturbed by distracting environments and unwilling to give up on a scent – the equivalent of high-energy athletes. The best cancer-detection dogs, on the other hand, tend to be precise, methodical, quiet and even a bit aloof — more the introverted scientists.

“Some dogs declare early, but our late bloomers frequently switch majors,” Dr. Otto said.

Handlers begin training dogs selected for cancer detection by holding two vials of fluid in front of each dog, one cancerous and one benign. The dogs initially sniff both but are rewarded only when they sniff the one containing cancer tissue. In time, the dogs learn to recognize a unique “cancer smell” before moving on to more complex tests.

What exactly are the dogs sensing? George Preti, a chemist at the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia, has spent much of his career trying to isolate the volatile chemicals behind cancer’s unique odor. “We have known for a long time that dogs are very sensitive detectors,” Dr. Preti says. “When the opportunity arose to collaborate with Dr. Otto at the Working Dog Center, I jumped on it.”

Dr. Preti is working to isolate unique chemical biomarkers responsible for ovarian cancer’s subtle smell using high-tech spectrometers and chromatographs. Once he identifies a promising compound, he tests whether the dogs respond to that chemical in the same way that they respond to actual ovarian cancer tissue.

“I’m not embarrassed to say that a dog is better than my instruments,” Dr. Preti says.


The dogs, raised in the homes of volunteer foster families, begin their training at 8 weeks of age, starting with basic obedience classes.Credit Penn Vet Working Dog Center.

The next step will be to build a mechanical, hand-held sensor that can detect that cancer chemical in the clinic. That’s where Charlie Johnson a professor at Penn who specializes in experimental nanophysics, the study of molecular interactions between microscopic materials, comes in.

He is developing what he calls Cyborg sensors, which include biological and mechanical components – a combination of carbon nanotubes and single-stranded DNA that preferentially bond with one specific chemical compound. These precise sensors, in theory, could be programmed to bind to, and detect, the isolated compounds that Dr. Otto’s dogs are singling out.

“We are effectively building an electronic nose,” said Dr. Johnson, who added that a prototype for his ovarian cancer sensor will probably be ready in the next five years.

Some experts remain skeptical.

“While I applaud any effort to detect ovarian cancer, I’m uncertain that this research will have any value,” said Dr. David Fishman, a gynecologic oncologist at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. One challenge, he notes, is that any cancer sensor would need to be able to detect volatile chemicals that are specific to one particular type of cancer.

“Nonspecificity is where a lot of these sort of tests fail,” Dr. Fishman said. “If there is an overlap in volatile chemicals — between colon, breast, pancreatic, ovarian cancer — we’ll have to ask, ‘What does this mean?’ ”

And even if sensors could be developed that detect ovarian cancer in the clinic, Dr. Fishman says, he doubts that they would be able to catch ovarian cancer in its earliest, potentially more treatable, stages.

“The lesions that we are discussing are only millimeters in size, and almost imperceptible on imaging studies,” Dr. Fishman says. “I don’t believe that the resolution of the canine ability will translate into value for these lesions.”

McBaine remains unaware of the debate. After correctly identifying yet another cancerous plasma sample, he pranced around the Working Dog Center with regal flair, showing off his tennis ball to anyone who would pay attention. In an industry saturated with hundreds of corporations and thousands of scientists all hunting for the earliest clues to cancer, working dogs are just another set of (slightly furrier) researchers.

From Rockstar To Fundraiser

For Steve Mastroianni (aka VØID), 2013 was a year he won’t soon forget.

After touring all over the world with top Rock Bands such as KISS, Our Lady Peace, and Finger Eleven, Steve’s life took a devastating turn for the worse when his father, Anthony Mastroianni, told him that he’s just been diagnosed with Stage 4 Colon Cancer.

“When my father was diagnosed last Spring, I knew right away that I would put my music career on hold and stop at nothing to get him back to 100% and onto the golf course. I didn’t know exactly how we would do it, but I knew that his passion would be a KEY component to his recovery.” said Steve.

Shortly after the diagnosis, the Mastroianni family was approached by Fil from the Colorectal Cancer Association of Canada (CCAC), offering to coach everyone involved through the difficult time.

“Fil answered EVERY single one of our questions about the upcoming process, educated us about how Colorectal Cancer functions in the body, and connected us with all the people who helped my father fully recover and return to the golf course.” said Steve.

Despite the emotional rollercoaster ride that was 2013-2014, after two surgeries, countless visits to the hospital, and the horrors of spending more time in the emergency room than his previous 28 years combined, Steve is proud to say that they achieved their goal on July 22nd, 2014, just over one year after the diagnosis.

Photo: Steve Matroianni (aka VØID) and father Anthony Mastroianni

Photo: Steve Matroianni (aka VØID) and father Anthony Mastroianni

Photo: “The path that Fil and the CCAC set out for us in 2013 was the crucial element that ensured my Dad spent this summer out of the hospital and on the golf course. I may have toured with KISS, but Fil is the real Rockstar here!” said Steve.

So WHY VØID Cancer?

After traveling the world for 10 years with a guitar on his back, Steve is no stranger to communicating his message to large crowds.

However, it was his experience with his father this past year that would help to put everything in perspective and inspire him to use his guitar to make an even bigger impact in the world.

His goal is to Teach and Inspire new Guitar Players around the world, while donating proceeds to the CCAC to further Cancer Research and introduce new programs for those who are suffering from this horrible disease.

He calls this movement VØID Cancer and his mission is to Eliminate Cancer: One Note at a Time.

He plans to accomplish this by selling his online coaching platform & digital products as well as through LIVE workshops for patients, caregivers, and anyone else who would like to learn how to create beautiful music and lasting change.

If you or someone you love has always dreamed of playing guitar, or just wants to give it a try, then there is no better time to learn than now.

“I can’t think of any better incentive to practice than knowing that proceeds will be going to further Cancer research.” said Steve.

Even his Rockstar mentor Gene Simmons approves of his new venture: “VØID is a special guy and what he is doing with VØID Cancer is admirable.” – Gene Simmons

Photo: Gene Simmons from KISS and Steve Mastroainni (aka VØID) We couldn’t agree more.

Photo: Gene Simmons from KISS and Steve Mastroainni (aka VØID) We couldn’t agree more.

Please click the link below and sign up to find out how you can get started today.

Save the date for the 5th annual CCAC Gala

Save the date for the 5th annual CCAC Gala

save_the_date_gala_2014Clear your schedule the night of November 12, 2014! You are cordially invited to join the Colorectal Cancer Association of Canada (CCAC) for a fantastic evening full of live art, comedy and great company.

This year we will be hosting the 5th installment of their annual Gala.

We appreciate your future and past generosity and we look forward to seeing you at this innovative and avant-garde evening of spectacular entertainment. We hope to see you at the Arsenal for the 2014 LIVE ART GALA!

Des selles fluo pour déceler un cancer

Des selles fluo pour déceler un cancer

Agence QMI 05/09/2014 15h08
Photo Fotolia

L’utilisation d’enzymes fluorescentes lors d’examens des selles d’individus pourrait permettre d’y déceler des traces de cancer colorectal, estiment deux chercheurs de l’Université McMaster, à Hamilton, en Ontario.

Les docteurs Yingfu Li, un biochimiste et Bruno Salena, un gastroentérologue, travaillent à ce projet en collaboration avec la Société canadienne du cancer qui leur a accordé une subvention de 200 000 $.

L’idée leur est venue lors d’une conversation au cours d’une partie de golf: le Dr Li a raconté qu’il étudiait les enzymes fluorescents tandis que le Dr Salena, lui, traitait des patients atteints du cancer colorectal.

«Nous nous sommes mis à échanger sur les possibilités de détection précoce du cancer à l’aide de ces enzymes, et j’ai trouvé ça très intéressant, a indiqué le Dr Salena. J’ai regardé les données du Dr Li et je me suis dit qu’on pourrait expérimenter quelque chose de nouveau.»

Les chercheurs tenteront d’identifier des enzymes qui émettront un rayonnement lorsqu’ils sont dans des échantillons de selle de patients ayant un diagnostic de cancer colorectal, mais qui demeureront neutres dans le cas d’échantillons sains.

Si leur recherche, étalée sur deux ans, est un succès, les médecins pourraient à l’avenir faire passer ce test dans leur bureau. Utilisé sur des échantillons d’urine, ce test pourrait aussi servir à détecter les cancers du rein ou de la vessie.

Même s’il est traitable dans 90 % des cas, le cancer colorectal est le deuxième cancer le plus meurtrier au Canada.


Poop that glows: McMaster researchers developing colorectal cancer test

Researchers at McMaster University in Hamilton search for DNA enzymes to create early warning test

 Adam Carter CBC News

McMaster University researchers Dr. Yingfu Li, right, and Dr. Bruno Salena are conducting a research study to find enzymes that would cause glowing feces in colorectal cancer patients as an early warning system.

McMaster University researchers Dr. Yingfu Li, right, and Dr. Bruno Salena are conducting a research study to find enzymes that would cause glowing feces in colorectal cancer patients as an early warning system. Mike Lalich/Canadian Cancer Society. Researchers from McMaster University in Hamilton are working on what they call simple, non-invasive test for colorectal cancer: glowing poop.

Biochemist Dr. Yingfu Li and gastroenterologist Dr. Bruno Salena say the test they’re developing under a grant from the Canadian Cancer Society is an innovative way to get more people checked for cancer. “I find it very exciting as a clinician,” Salena said. “If we can produce a simple, cost-effective test here, the costs for a population are much less all around.”

‘If we could offer a simpler test, you’d get more people receptive to this type of screening.’– Dr. Yingfu Li, cancer researcher

To start the study, researchers are amassing a pool of as many as a quadrillion DNA sequences. With this massive pool, they plan to search for specific DNA enzymes that will glow in the feces of people with colorectal cancer. If they’re successful, the detection tool could one day be used in the doctor’s office as a simple, inexpensive test for cancer.

Colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer deaths for men in Canada, behind lung cancer, and the third-leading cause of death among women, behind lung and breast cancer, according to Canadian Cancer Statistics 2014. But doctors say when colon cancer is caught early, it’s 90 per cent treatable. There are currently two at-home tests that can detect tiny amounts of blood in stool samples when cancer is present, but they can produce many false positives.

Getting more people screened

A colonoscopy is a more accurate test, but it’s invasive, expensive and not recommended for the general population until age 50, doctors say. The cancer society says anyone with risk factors for colon cancer, such as a “first-degree” relative with the disease, should work with their doctors to develop the plan that is right for them. Li says he has first-hand understanding of the need for less invasive screening procedures. He recently turned 50, and had a colonoscopy – something that “wasn’t easy.” “If we could offer a simpler test, you’d get more people receptive to this type of screening,” he said. Both men are confident they’ll be able to find the DNA enzymes necessary to make this work. Li is in the middle of proving a similar process is possible in another study on Clostridium difficile (C. difficile). “That’s given us the confidence to think this will work,” he said.

Supporting research

Dr Siân Bevan, director of research for the Canadian Cancer Society, says the “serendipitous” collaboration of Li and Salena — they met playing golf — has allowed them to tackle an old problem in a new way.“It’s a great example of the importance of supporting innovation in cancer research,” Bevan said. “In fact, in part because of the strength of the applications, this is the largest number of Innovation Grants we’ve funded since we launched the program.”The two doctors applied for the cancer society Innovation Grant in July. So far, 51 grants totalling almost $10 million have been issued under the program. “We’re very fortunate to receive this grant,” Li said.

Salena says researchers have already studied 30 colorectal cancer patients’ stool samples, and by next summer, they should have a panel of molecules that can be tested alongside them. If the test works, there’s no reason the same system couldn’t be implemented to test other types of cancer, Salena says, like using a glowing urine sample to find prostate cancer. “We’re really going to do our best to make this happen.”