Low-cost urine test soon may save dogs from cancer

March 1, 2024

Cancer is a major concern for dog owners, especially as their furry companions get older. Nearly half of all dogs over the age of ten are likely to develop some form of cancer, making early detection key to keeping our pets disease-free into their senior years. With that in mind, researchers have unveiled a simple urine test that may soon give pet owners and vets a non-invasive way of testing for the disease before it’s too late, reports Study Finds.

A team from Virginia Tech’s College of Engineering, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, and the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine says that, until now, detecting cancer in dogs primarily relied on three blood tests that search for tumors or cancer proteins. These tests, however, are invasive, expensive, and can take time to produce results. The innovative urine test developed by the research team offers a rapid, cost-effective alternative.

At the heart of this advancement is a technique known as Raman spectroscopy. By analyzing urine samples, researchers discovered that dogs with cancer exhibit a unique molecular “fingerprint” in their urine, distinct from healthy dogs.

“If a new patient comes into the clinic and provides a urine sample, we can

compare it against our database of urine scans to determine if the sample more closely matches a cancer fingerprint or a healthy fingerprint,” says Ryan Senger, an associate professor in the Department of Biological Systems Engineering, in a university release. “With the research that we have done so far, we were more than 90% accurate at being able to tell if a new sample had cancer fingerprint or a healthy fingerprint.”

Currently, blood tests for cancer in dogs only offer about 60% accuracy, take time, and leave dog owners with huge medical bills. This urine-based screening not only provides quicker results but also opens the door for at-home testing in the future.

“Owners could go from paying for expensive testing every few months, to having a urine screening done once every few months, depending on the dog’s risk for cancer, if they wanted to,” adds Nikolaos Dervisis, an associate professor of oncology at Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine. “This screening would allow veterinarians to decide if further comprehensive testing is needed based on the results.”

Beyond early detection, the research team is also looking at the broader applications for their work. They aim to use the screening tool to assess how dogs respond to cancer therapy, monitor the recurrence of tumors, and even extend the technology to other animals and potentially human health studies.

“We could potentially measure responses to medicine and chemotherapy in dogs already undergoing treatment, then monitor those dogs to see how they’re doing. Can we differentiate the kind of diseases we screen for? Which patients are responding to drugs and why? We’re currently working to collaborate with other institutions to further explore how all these factors can be beneficial,” notes John Robertson, a research professor in the Department of Biomedical Engineering and Mechanics.

While hope is on the horizon for dog owners everywhere, the team cautions that this new test is still in the research phase and is currently only available through specific medical studies called clinical trials with limited access. The Virginia Tech team believes this cancer test is likely “several years away from public availability.”

The findings are published in the journal, Frontiers in Veterinary Science.

Research contact: @StudyFinds