by Chelsey Lucas
Photography by Alex Stafford
Heather Junqueira, Founder, BioScent K9
WE ALL KNOW THAT DOGS CAN sniff out drug smugglers, lost children and victims of earthquakes, but a new local research company is training them to smell human cancer cells, too. At Myakka City-based BioScent K9, founded by Heather Junqueira, a former breeding manager for Southeastern Guide Dogs, beagles learn to recognize volatile chemical compounds (VCCs)—chemicals released by abnormal cancer cells—in human breath and urine samples.
Junqueira, 42, started the nonprofit company as a collaborative research effort with the cancer education and research organization Pine Street Foundation in San Anselmo, Calif. Dogs have already successfully identified lung, breast, ovarian, prostate and colon cancers at Pine Street. Beagles are famous for their sense of smell, and Junqueira’s puppies are being trained to give a cue—raising a paw or barking—if they detect VCCs. By the end of the year, the dogs will be ready to test samples provided by local doctors collected during annual physicals. A report based on the dogs’ reactions will be sent to the doctor to advise the patient whether to follow up with an oncologist. Her research will be compounded with Pine Street’s to help win FDA approval.
Early detection is the most effective way of treating most cancers, Junqueira says. “[This technique] is noninvasive and cost effective. If we know dogs can do this, why don’t we use them for that purpose?” she asks.