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Licensed Unlicensed Requires Authentication Published by De Gruyter June 7, 2017

Cancer sniffer dogs: how can we translate this peculiarity in laboratory medicine? Results of a pilot study on gastrointestinal cancers

Concetta Panebianco, Edgar Kelman, Kristel Vene, Domenica Gioffreda, Francesca Tavano, Raivo Vilu, Fulvia Terracciano, Illar Pata, Kaarel Adamberg, Angelo Andriulli and Valerio Pazienza



Identification of cancer biomarkers to allow early diagnosis is an urgent need for many types of tumors, whose prognosis strongly depends on the stage of the disease. Canine olfactory testing for detecting cancer is an emerging field of investigation. As an alternative, here we propose to use GC-Olfactometry (GC/O), which enables the speeding up of targeted biomarker identification and analysis. A pilot study was conducted in order to determine odor-active compounds in urine that discriminate patients with gastrointestinal cancers from control samples (healthy people).


Headspace solid phase microextraction (HS-SPME)-GC/MS and GC-olfactometry (GC/O) analysis were performed on urine samples obtained from gastrointestinal cancer patients and healthy controls.


In total, 91 key odor-active compounds were found in the urine samples. Although no odor-active biomarkers present were found in cancer carrier’s urine, significant differences were discovered in the odor activities of 11 compounds in the urine of healthy and diseased people. Seven of above mentioned compounds were identified: thiophene, 2-methoxythiophene, dimethyl disulphide, 3-methyl-2-pentanone, 4-(or 5-)methyl-3-hexanone, 4-ethyl guaiacol and phenylacetic acid. The other four compounds remained unknown.


GC/O has a big potential to identify compounds not detectable using untargeted GC/MS approach. This paves the way for further research aimed at improving and validating the performance of this technique so that the identified cancer-associated compounds may be introduced as biomarkers in clinical practice to support early cancer diagnosis.

Corresponding author: Dr. Valerio Pazienza, Gastroenterology Unit, I.R.C.C.S. “Casa Sollievo della Sofferenza” Hospital, viale dei Cappuccini n.1, 71013 San Giovanni Rotondo (FG), Italy, Phone: +39-(0)882.416281, Fax: +39-(0)882.416271
aConcetta Panebianco and Edgar Kelman contributed equally to this work.


The authors thank for the kind contribution of the spouses Mrs. Di Paola and Mr. Grimaldi ad memoriam of her beloved mother for the scientific research through Fondazione Italiana Biologi (FIB) (Grant/Award Number: “GAS16”).

  1. Author contributions: All the authors have accepted responsibility for the entire content of this submitted manuscript and approved submission.

  2. Research funding: The study was supported by a grant from the Italian Ministry of Health through Division of Gastroenterology (RC1403GA41 and RC1503GA40 to VP) IRCCS “Casa Sollievo della Sofferenza” Hospital and by the “5×1000” voluntary contributions. This research was supported also by European Regional Development Fund to Competence Center of Food and Fermentation Technologies (EU48667) and Institutional Research Funding to Tallinn University of Technology (IUT 19-27) of the Estonian Ministry of Education and Research and Industrie Alimentari Tamma s.r.l. (RV16GASTAMMA).

  3. Employment or leadership: None declared.

  4. Honorarium: None declared.

  5. Competing interests: The funding organization(s) played no role in the study design; in the collection, analysis, and interpretation of data; in the writing of the report; or in the decision to submit the report for publication.


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Received: 2016-12-19
Accepted: 2017-4-16
Published Online: 2017-6-7
Published in Print: 2017-11-27

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