These puppies are using their robust sense of smell to sniff out cancer.

Alfie and Charlie are only four months old, but they're already training to become cancer detection specialists at the University of California, Davis.

And oh yeah, they're dogs.


A multi-disciplinary team of veterinarians, physicians, and animal experts from UC Davis and the surrounding area are coming together to train Alfie (a labradoodle) and Charlie (a German shepherd) to hone their ability to recognize the scent of cancer in urine, saliva, and even human breath.

That's right, Alfie and Charlie will be able to sniff out cancer.

Thanks to their high-powered super sniffers, dogs are perfect for the job.

A dog has more than 220 million olfactory receptors in its nose, while humans have a measly 5 million. This explains why a dog can detect smells 10,000 to 100,000 times better than their two-legged best friends.

This dog can smell you through the screen. Photo by iStock.

In an interview for the PBS show "NOVA," sensory expert James Walker put it plainly: "If you make the analogy to vision, what you and I can see at a third of a mile, a dog could see more than 3,000 miles away and still see as well."

The pups will spend the next 12 months undergoing rigorous training.

Led by dog expert Dina Zaphiris, who has trained dozens of canines to detect breast and ovarian cancer, Alfie and Charlie will begin scent training. This involves not only recognizing cancer but learning to ignore everything else. Socialization is also an important part of the training, since the pups will work so closely with humans.

It's all in preparation for early 2016, when the dynamic duo will start screening individuals in a UC Davis clinical trial.

Alfie and Charlie show off their staff IDs. Photos by UC Davis Health System, copyright UC Regents.

Cancer-detecting dogs may be a safe, affordable way to save lives.

When it comes to cancer, early detection is the key to survival. When breast cancer is diagnosed and treated at Stage 1, the five-year survival rate is around 98%. But even with medical and technological advances, it's still difficult to reliably detect cancers in the early stages.

Dog detection is an inexpensive, safe, non-invasive way to screen for cancer, especially early on. According to Peter Belafsky, professor and physician at UC Davis, canines like Charlie and Alfie could save countless lives.

"Our new canine colleagues represent a unique weapon in the battle against cancer....the dogs' incredible talent for scent detection could offer us humans a real jump on diagnosing cancer much earlier and thus save many more lives."


Charlie with Dr. Ralph deVere White, director of the UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center. Photo by UC Davis Health System, copyright UC Regents.

Charlie and Alfie may also lay the groundwork for future research.

Dogs and their sensitive noses are sniffing out a specific molecular compound when they identify cancer. Researchers don't know exactly what the dogs are smelling, but if they study canines like Charlie and Alfie and pinpoint the organic compound, they may be able to reverse-engineer a test or tool for more reliable early detection.

No bones about it: Charlie, Alfie, and the team at UC Davis are heroes.

Photo by iStock.

Sniffing out cancer and advancing medical research all while maintaining peak adorability. Your move, cats.

Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
True

Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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We know that mammals feed their young with milk from their own bodies, and we know that whales are mammals. But the logistics of how some whales make breastfeeding happen has been a bit of a mystery for scientists. Such has been the case with sperm whales.

Sperm whales are uniquely shaped, with humongous, block-shaped heads that house the largest brains in the animal world. Like other cetaceans, sperm whale babies rely on their mother's milk for sustenance in their first year or two. And also like other cetaceans, a sperm whale mama's nipple is inverted—it doesn't stick out from her body like many mammals, but rather is hidden inside a mammary slit.

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Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
True

Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

Keep Reading Show less