"We're still looking to see whether something could be developed and be useful in routine patient care, and we're not there yet," said Lichtenfeld, who is not involved in the study.
Cindy Otto, director of the Working Dog Center, hopes to change that with the help of McBaine, a springer spaniel; Ohlin, a Labrador retriever; and Tsunami, a German shepherd.
"If we can figure out what those chemicals are, what that fingerprint of ovarian cancer is that's in the blood — or maybe even eventually in the urine or something like that — then we can have that automated test that will be less expensive and very efficient at screening those samples," Otto said.
Ovarian cancer patient Marta Drexler, 57, is heartened by the effort. Drexler describes herself as a textbook case of the disease not being detected early enough because she had no symptoms.
After two surgeries and two rounds of chemotherapy, Drexler said she didn't hesitate when Dr. Tanyi, her physician, asked her to donate tissue to the study. Last week, she visited the Working Dog Center to meet the animals whose work might one day lead to fewer battles like hers.
"To have the opportunity to help with this dreadful disease, to do something about it, even if it's just a tiny little bit of something, it's a big thing," said Drexler, of nearby Lansdowne.
The ovarian cancer detection study is being funded by an $80,000 grant from the Madison, N.J.-based Kaleidoscope of Hope Foundation.