Biomedical Scent Detection Dogs: Would They Pass as a Health Technology?

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Catherine Reeve
Mirkka Koivusalo


Biomedical scent detection dogs identify the scent profiles of diseases, such as cancer, diabetes or pathogenic micro-organisms.  What the field of biomedical scent detection has been lacking, however, is the assessment of the method from the point of view of a health technology. All health technologies undergo a thorough evaluation of safety, clinical effectiveness and costs, as well as ethical, social, organizational and legal evaluations in some cases. Passing these regulatory controls is a pre-requisite before a technology is approved for use in decision-making about patient outcomes. Biomedical scent detection has a lot of attractive qualities, such as the sensitivity and specificity of the dogs’ noses, safety and relative cost-effectiveness. But the method also has various challenges, in particular regarding its clinical effectiveness. The most pertinent issues to address before the dogs would pass as a health technology are standardization the training techniques, both intra- and inter-dog reproducibility, and generalization of the detection task to early stages of disease progression. We suggest setting realistic goals in terms of what the dogs can and cannot do and a collaborative approach between clinicians and animal psychophysicists.


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