Noses for trouble: Medical Detection Dogs sniff out early diagnoses of disease

Tuesday, 02 March 2021

This is Belle, a ‘super sniffer’ dog in training to use her sense of smell to spot Covid, working at the cutting edge of diagnistic technology – and putting a very different spin on the phrase ‘lab report’

Belle’s part of a charity called Medical Detection Dogs, ­which is not only harnessing that incredible canine sense of smell to sniff out disease in humans, but also training Medical Alert Assistance Dogs.

And that acute sense of smell, which can detect one part in a trillion of the smell associated with different diseases, puts Medical Detection Dogs at the forefront of research into new ways to diagnose diseases and save lives. They’ve been supported by Lincolnshire’s Freemasons, thanks to a donation of £750 from Lincolnshire's New Provincial Benevolent Fund.

Says the Medical Detection Dog web site: 'The dog’s nose is the best bio-sensor we know of. Our research indicated that our dogs were capable of detecting tiny traces (around one part per trillion – the equivalent of one teaspoon of sugar in two Olympic sized swimming pools) of the odour created by different diseases.'

Whilst Belle’s specialism will be Covid, other dogs can sniff out cancers, Parkinson’s, and drug-resistant infections. The charity’s pioneering work is focused on understanding how these highly trained disease detectors could expand the world of diagnosis. 'We are confident dogs will be able to help scientists and medics develop faster and cheaper ways to detect diseases, such as cancers, neurological diseases and bacterial infections much earlier than is currently possible.'

Covid-19: A team of ‘super sniffers’ is being trained to spot Covid-19, and it’s hoped they’ll be able to spot it even where people are asymptomatic.

Cancer: Dogs are working on an NHS trial in Milton Keynes with prostate cancer detection, and a colorectal cancer study in partnership with Hull University Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust is investigating the potential of dogs to detect colorectal cancer accurately from urine samples.

Parkinson’s: A study involving Universities in Edinburgh and Manchester has proved that dogs can detect Parkinson’s before symptoms start to show, which is another step on the road to home in on the chemical linked to the disease.

Malaria: Dogs were able to identify more than 70% of malaria parasite-carrying children simply by smelling socks the children had worn for 24 hours.

Medical Detection Dogs’ Community Fundraiser Carolyn Green added: 'Thank you for the donation of £750; it’s amazing amount. 2020 was such a challenging year, and 2021 is looking a bit of a rollercoaster too.

'Every little bit we receive from supporters like yourselves really does make a huge difference. Without your support, we couldn’t continue training dogs to use their wonderful noses to save lives, each and every day.

More information: www.medicaldetectiondogs.org.uk

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