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Penn Vet Working Dog Center, Penn Physics, Penn Medicine, and Monell Chemical Senses Center Receive $80K Grant to Fund Study of Ovarian Cancer Detection by its Odorant Signature Using Dogs and E-Sensors

Published: May 1, 2013
[May 1, 2013; Philadelphia, PA] – In a unique, interdisciplinary collaboration, the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine’s Working Dog Center, Penn Physics Department, Penn Medicine’s Division of Gynecologic Oncology, and the Monell Chemical Senses Center have joined together to study ovarian cancer detection by dogs and e-sensors. A grant of $80,000 from Kaleidoscope of Hope Ovarian Cancer Foundation has been awarded to fund this collaborative project, which will investigate using canine olfaction, along with chemical and nanotechnology analysis, to detect early stage ovarian cancer.

Ovarian cancer is the fifth leading cause of cancer-related deaths in women in the U.S. If diagnosed early, ovarian cancer has a five-year survival rate of over 90 percent. However, an effective screening strategy does not currently exist for its detection. Because ovarian cancer symptoms can be easily mistaken for other issues – constipation, weight gain, bloating, or more frequent urination – more than 60 percent of patients are diagnosed only after the disease has spread to their lymph nodes or other distant sites in the body, when treatment is much less likely to produce a cure compared to when the disease is detected early. Any advance that can accurately detect ovarian cancer in its early stage can have a great impact on overall survival.

Currently, physicians rely on their senses of sight, sound and touch when making a diagnosis for ovarian cancer. Through the research being conducted by Penn and Monell, the sense of smell will now play an integral role in diagnostics.

It has been found that volatile organic compounds (VOC) or odorants are altered in the earliest stages of ovarian cancer, even before the cancer can be detected by current methods. Research has shown that trained detection dogs and electronic devices can detect minute quantities of odorants. Tissue and blood samples from healthy patients and from ovarian cancer patients will be collected by Penn Medicine’s Division of Gynecologic Oncology to be shared with the Working Dog Center for training and analysis.

“These odorants remain a relatively untapped source for cancer detection information,” said Cynthia Otto, DVM, PhD, Director of the Working Dog Center and Associate Professor of Critical Care at Penn Vet. “By utilizing the acute sense of smell in detection dogs in conjunction with chemical and nanotechnology methods, we hope to develop a new system of screening for ovarian cancer using analysis of odorants to facilitate early detection and help decrease future cancer deaths.”

“Prior to the advent of modern quantitative clinical testing, physicians used olfaction to help with disease diagnosis. In this research, we are reaching back to move forward by using sensitive biological and analytical sensors to detect ovarian cancer’s odorous signature,” said George Preti, PhD, an analytical chemist at the Monell Center and Adjunct Professor in Penn Medicine’s Department of Dermatology, who is principal investigator on the grant.

The collaborative research will employ canine olfaction and other analytical tools to detect ovarian cancer’s distinct odorant signature. The initial study will evaluate and compare the ability of canine and other sensors to detect the total odorant signatures that distinguish disease from healthy samples. Future studies will determine the most suitable tissue substrate for evaluation and will measure odor differences among various tumor grades.

About Penn Vet’s Working Dog Center

The mission of the Penn Vet Working Dog Center is to bring together programs that employ detection dogs to benefit society throughout the U.S. and around the world. The overarching goal is to collect and analyze genetic, behavioral and physical data, and integrate the latest scientific information in order to optimize the success and well-being of detection dogs. In order to prepare for future demands for these dogs as well as facilitate research, our detection dog breeding/training program will implement, test and disseminate the knowledge gained. For more information, visit

About Monell Chemical Senses Center

The Monell Chemical Senses Center is an independent, nonprofit basic research institute based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. For 45 years, Monell has advanced scientific understanding of the mechanisms and functions of taste and smell to benefit human health and well-being. Using an interdisciplinary approach, scientists collaborate in the programmatic areas of sensation and perception; neuroscience and molecular biology; environmental and occupational health; nutrition and appetite; health and well-being; development, aging and regeneration; and chemical ecology and communication. For more information about Monell, visit

About Penn Vet

Penn Vet is one of the world’s premier veterinary schools and is the only school in Pennsylvania graduating veterinarians. Founded in 1884, the school was built on the concept of Many Species, One MedicineTM. The birthplace of veterinary specialties, the school serves a distinctly diverse array of animal patients at its two campuses, from companion animals to horses to farm animals.

In Philadelphia, on Penn’s campus, are the Matthew J. Ryan Veterinary Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania (Ryan Hospital) for companion animals; classrooms; research laboratories; and the School’s administrative offices. The large-animal facility, New Bolton Center, in Kennett Square, PA, includes the George D. Widener Veterinary Hospital for large animals; diagnostic laboratories serving the agriculture industry; and research facilities to determine new treatment and diagnostic measures for large-animal diseases. For more information, visit

About Penn Vet

Ranked among the top ten veterinary schools worldwide, the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine (Penn Vet) is a global leader in veterinary education, research, and clinical care. Founded in 1884, Penn Vet is the first veterinary school developed in association with a medical school. The school is a proud member of the One Health initiative, linking human, animal, and environmental health.

Penn Vet serves a diverse population of animals at its two campuses, which include extensive diagnostic and research laboratories. Ryan Hospital in Philadelphia provides care for dogs, cats, and other domestic/companion animals, handling nearly 35,300 patient visits a year. New Bolton Center, Penn Vet’s large-animal hospital on nearly 700 acres in rural Kennett Square, PA, cares for horses and livestock/farm animals. The hospital handles nearly 5,300 patient visits a year, while the Field Service treats more than 38,000 patients at local farms. In addition, New Bolton Center’s campus includes a swine center, working dairy, and poultry unit that provide valuable research for the agriculture industry.

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