Can You Sniff Out Sickness? The Answer Will Surprise You.

by Brandon Topp

From ancient practices to man’s best friend to brand-new technology — the process of sniffing out sickness is one of the most tried-and-true diagnosis methods humans know. The latest developments in the world of scent-based testing comes from Owlstone, a chemical-sensor manufacturer in Cambridge, England. 

The company is in the midst of several large clinical trials to test its silicon chip sensor that uses scent to diagnose lung cancer, and colon cancer among other things. While the chip is still very much in development, we can sniff out sicknesses with a variety of other tools, like dogs.

That’s right, a dog can tell if you have cancer, a migraine, or even low blood sugar. This adds just another one to the million reasons why you should adopt a dog, like those we feature on our original series Finding Fido. On it, host Seth Casteel pairs families with their ideal rescue dogs through fun activities and tests. Find out when to watch ‘Finding Fido’ and where you can tune in. 

Also on Z Living: 6 Shocking Reasons Why Your Dog’s Breath Stinks

How Dogs Sniff Out Sickness. 


Dogs have shown the ability to sniff out and even predict a wide range of medical issues including seizures, various forms of cancer, and anxiety. This piece from CNN tells the story of Lucy, a Labrador Retriever/Irish Water Spaniel mix, who was thought to be untrainable as a pup. 

Her strong nose made her the perfect candidate for a study that tested her ability to detect bladder, kidney, and prostate cancer. The story reports that she can detect cancer correctly over 95% of the time, which is a higher percentage than some lab tests! 

Also on Z Living: 5 Scentsational Health Benefits Of Fresh Flowers

This Practice Goes Way Back. 


Reporting on Owlstone and other ventures regarding odor-based diagnostic technologies, ancient Greek and Chinese medical practitioners used a patient’s scent to make diagnoses, according to The New York Times. Some of the examples the paper listed include that diabetics sometimes smell of rotten apples, and the skin of typhoid patients can smell like baking bread. 

So, What’s Next? 


In addition to Owlstone, grants and clinical trials for similar types of technology are going to researchers in Pennsylvania, entrepreneurs in Israel, and countless other industry experts who believe in odor-sensing diagnostics. 

The New York Times quoted a biomedical engineer and professor at University California, Davis saying, “I think the fact that you’re seeing so much activity [around odor sensors] in both commercial and academic settings shows that we’re getting a lot closer.” She predicts clinicians will be using the technology within three-to-five years. 

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