Training dogs to detect malignant ovarian cancer – and using them to help produce an early-detection system

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Fagin Hall Auditorium (418 Curie Boulevard)

12:00-1:30 PM

Lunch Provided



Presently, there is no early diagnosis system for ovarian cancer, resulting in later diagnoses and poorer prognoses of the disease. At the Penn Vet Working Dog Center, we are training dogs to alert on malignant ovarian cancer when presented with plasma samples of human patients. Our project has aimed to answer two questions. First, can we train dogs on cancer cell lines to alert on cancer plasma? This would reduce the need for increasing numbers of plasma samples, one hurdle to get over when training cancer detection dogs. Second, can we use dogs to inform us in our end-goal to make an early-detection system for ovarian cancer? Together with our collaborators at the University of Pennsylvania and Monell, we hope to make an ‘electronic nose’ early detection system that can be used to diagnose ovarian cancer at earlier stages, when the disease has a significantly higher survival rate.

Speaker Bio: 

Jennifer Essler, Ph.D., is a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Penn Vet Working Dog Center at the University of Pennsylvania. Her interests center around how we can quantify the training of working dogs, and how we can use this to improve the training process, resulting in better working dogs. At the Working Dog Center, she runs the research side of the center, including work on scent detection and development. Her major research project presently involves training dogs to detect malignant ovarian cancer, working in collaboration with other researchers to hopefully result in an early detection screening for ovarian cancer.

Before beginning at the Working Dog Center, she received her B.A. in Psychology from Georgia State University and her M.Sc. in Animal Behavior from Bucknell University. Her earlier work was on cognition and social behavior in non-human primates, focusing on capuchin monkeys. She received her Ph.D. from the University of Veterinary Medicine in Vienna, Austria, where she studied the effects of domestication on cooperation in pack-living dogs and wolves. Her research has been published in multiple peer-reviewed journals, including Current Biology and Animal Cognition.