Dr. Sheryl Gabram Featured on ABC World News with Diane Sawyer

April 2011

Dr. Gabram examines mammography scans

On the April 25th edition of ABC World News with Diane Sawyer, Dr. Sheryl Gabram was featured in a special report on the ability of dogs to detect cancer and other illnesses in humans through their sense of smell. The report included coverage of Carol Witcher — a patient of Dr. Gabram's — whose dog nudged and sniffed her right breast for four days before she finally went to Winship Cancer Institute to be checked, discovering that she had stage-three cancer requiring surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. She has now been cancer-free for two years.

"Her type of cancer was rather large in her breast," Dr. Gabram said in the report, explaining that cancer causes the body to release certain organic compounds that dogs can smell but people cannot. "I absolutely believe that the dog saved Ms. Witcher's life."

The feature explained that Dr. Gabram's conviction was grounded in her research team's ongoing development of a simple test for detecting and monitoring breast cancer based on breath analysis. The test looks for more than 300 volatile, organic molecules in the breath via a small, hand-held device resembling a Breathalyzer.

"Our model predicted in over 75 percent of the time correctly which patients did have breast cancer and which ones did not," Dr. Gabram said. In fact, when Ms. Witcher breathed into the tube, the test confirmed that she was sick.

"You could potentially go to a physician's office, blow in the bottle and ultimately have a direct read system where we would know in the office: Are you showing some of those indicators [that] something's happening in your body?" Dr. Gabram said.

The breath biomarker study is a cooperative effort Dr. Gabram is conducting with Dr. Charlene Bayer of the Georgia Technology Research Institute. Because of its portability, the device they are developing could be used in countries where women may not have easy access to mammography screening, though Dr. Gabram has stressed that breath testing ideally is a supplement to and not a replacement for mammography. She foresees the modality being useful for testing high-risk women more frequently and keeping closer track of cancer survivors for disease recurrence.