Research investigating whether scent-detection dogs can identify lung cancer using breath and saliva is getting its first boost of funding.

Dr Timothy Edwards from the University of Waikato's School of Psychology has secured a $233,607 grant to test his theory.

Edwards says several studies have demonstrated scent-detection dogs' ability to accurately identify cancer, but few studies have involved methods that can be used in a clinical setting.

"An operationally viable detection system for lung cancer would have significant health and economic benefits in New Zealand and internationally," he said.

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"Improvements in accuracy and speed of diagnosis could result in increased detection rates and reduced mortality for people with lung cancer."

Before joining the University of Waikato, Edwards worked for a humanitarian organisation in Tanzania investigating the accuracy of tuberculosis-detection by giant African pouched rats.

From that experience, he's established a scent-detection research facility at the university and designed and built an automated canine apparatus which will be used for his research.

Health Research Council chief executive professor Kath McPherson said the contribution that animals can make to human health and wellbeing has been long known, but their role in detecting ill health was a more recent development.

"Evidence shows there are specific odour profiles associated with lung cancer, so there's a chance this research might identify a valuable tool for earlier detection of the disease.

"It could also help inform the development of machine-based sensor technology. We think that's worth a deeper look," McPherson said.

Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer-related death in New Zealand, mainly because of the high cost of current lung cancer screening methods, which results in late detection.

2018 Emerging Researcher First Grants – full list

Dr Sarah Appleby, University of Otago, Christchurch
Role of myoregulin in cardiovascular disease
36 months, $249,265

Dr Octavia Calder Dawe, Massey University, Auckland
Working on wellbeing with young people
36 months, $249,966

Dr Nadia Charania, AUT University
Exploring immunisation inequities among refugee children in New Zealand
24 months, $125,424

Dr Kirsty Danielson, University of Otago, Wellington
Circulating RNA as diagnostic and prognostic biomarkers in colorectal cancer
36 months, $249,984

Dr Rebecca Dyson, University of Otago, Wellington
Omega-3 for improvement of cardiometabolic outcomes following preterm birth
36 months, $249,660

Dr Timothy Edwards, University of Waikato
Lung cancer screening with scent-detection dogs
36 months, $233,607

Dr Rosemary Gibson, Massey University, Wellington
The role of sleep in healthy ageing and living well with dementia
36 months, $249,998

Dr Rachel Purcell, University of Otago, Christchurch
CRC predict study - association of molecular subtypes and microbiome in CRC
24 months, $249,477

Dr David Rice, Waitemata DHB
Anti-depressants for osteoarthritis pain: Can we predict treatment efficacy?
24 months, $247,098

Dr Brie Sorrenson, The University of Auckland
Understanding genetic factors that influence beta-cell function
36 months, $247,576

Dr Aaron Stevens, University of Otago, Christchurch
Can inflammation and ageing modify the human epigenome?
36 months, $249,137

Dr Kate Thomas, University of Otago, Dunedin
Optimisation of pre-operative cardiovascular fitness: The heat vs HIIT study
36 months, $249,615