Disease-Sniffing Dogs: Physicist Andreas Mershin Talks Breakthroughs in Cancer Detection


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"The wider view of nature is the more powerful one," says Andreas Mershin, a researcher who stays out of bounds. "Nature is not divided by a textbook," he continues, and this foundation sets the tone for his work. He's a physicist who's exploring the innovative discovery of diseases at their earliest stages, from a prostate cancer diagnosis to breast cancer, by harnessing the smelling acuity of dogs. Listen and learn

  • How studies have shown surprising and encouraging results with dog sniffing and cancer identification,
  • What mechanics of smell and scent enable the dogs to detect cancer when it can't be identified by biomarkers, and
  • How scientists are looking at mechanical devices to do the same thing and more, including sensing our emotional states.

Andreas Mershin is a research scientist at the MIT Center for Bits and Atoms. While that department may not seem congruous with researching the latest treatment for prostate cancer, he explains that the physical world doesn’t limit itself to department titles, so why should research? That’s why when he stumbled across two seminal papers on dogs’ abilities to find out more than one different cancer diagnosis by scent, he knew he had a subject worth investigating.

But it’s not as straight forward as just smelling cancer, he explains. Rather, “think of the molecules of sense that are being produced by your metabolic pathways as being the sand, and cancer signatures like footsteps on the sand.” Further, the dogs are able to generalize to other types of cancer after learning one type. He says that they are sensing cancer imprints over other molecules almost as emotion moves through various molecules. They’re also teaching machines to do this as well, to recognize an “emergent scent character” of different conditions. Because addressing certain cancers early can be a matter of life and death, this research hopes to save lives by identifying someone with, for example, prostate cancer, and initiating prostate cancer treatment in the earliest stages. Listen in for more about this fascinating research. Visit the Links to know more about his Research: https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0245530 https://www.wired.com/story/quest-to-make-robot-smell-cancer-dog/ https://news.mit.edu/2021/disease-detection-device-dogs-0217 Episode also available on Apple Podcasts: apple.co/30PvU9C

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