ASU professor: Canine science may lead to advancements in cancer research

Sloppy wet kisses and wagging tails are only few of the functions that “man’s best friend” has to offer, and one ASU professor believes one of these functions may be creating developments in cancer research.

Sponsored by ASU's Department of Psychology and the Canine Science Collaboratory, canine researchers discussed the potential dogs could have in healing capabilities Tuesday at the Tempe Center for the Arts.

Clive Wynne, an ASU professor of psychology, founded the Canine Science Collaboratory the summer of 2013. An author and researcher, Wynne studied the cognitive capabilities of animals in his book “Do Animals Think?”

The organization focuses on understanding how canines' cognitive functions work and their ability to be used for human-based research.

Wynne recently published “Animal Cognition: Evolution, Behavior and Cognition,” the second edition of his original animal cognitive studies book.

"Data has shown that people are more likely to buy a dog if they’re cute," he said.

When it comes to ugly dogs, strict behavioral habits determine a dog’s likeliness for getting adopted from a shelter, he added.

Gregory Berns, professor at Emory University, displayed the common misconceptions of canine understanding by showing images representing preconceived notions about canines and their cognitive abilities.

He showed a caricature of a man yelling at his dog and the dog only understanding one word out of the entire script, its name. After laughter from the audience, Berns asked the audience whether that was true.

“Is this all a scam?” he asked. "(To analyze a dog's brain), we built simulators."

Berns and his team built simulators to train dogs and have them practice being still during an MRI.

Various studies found that dogs have specific responses to social cognitive factors.

“We’ve certified 18 dogs as MRI dogs,” he said.

Berns said data showed dogs reacted more highly to the scent of their owners than to the scent of a stranger. This instance poses new questions and theories to be researched in terms of how olfactory senses encode human identity, he said.

He said cancer research in dogs translates over to new developments for people.

“It’s so easy to tame dogs,” he said.

He said he has never truly seen a feral dog because of the ease of taming.

A study by the National Center for Biotechnology Information found that levels of oxytocin increased after positive interaction between dogs and humans.

Mathew Breen, professor at North Carolina State University, said the development in canine cognition will lead to new advancements for people.

He discussed how developments in canine science were quickly translating over to medical developments for people. A test that determines how likely a dog is to get bladder cancer was one example given that has led to advancements for a similar medical test for people.

"Dogs are really accelerating the way we identify genes,” he said.

Reach the reporter at or follow her on Twitter @_KennedyScott

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