Imagine if a dog could detect an illness before we had any idea there was a problem and reduce the need for intrusive, unpleasant and expensive diagnostic tests.
Well for over 10 years, world-leading charity Medical Detection Dogs has been training dogs to do just that; to save lives using their amazing sense of smell.
It does this with Medical Alert Assistance Dogs and Bio Detection Dogs, both of which can be trained to detect even the tiniest trace of the odour caused by a medical condition.
Medical Alert Assistance Dogs support people with complex health conditions when they are in danger of having a potentially life-threatening medical event, so they can take the necessary action and prevent hospital admission.
Using the power of their nose, these assistance dogs can be trained to detect even the faintest changes in the smell of their human partner.
What can Medical Detection Dogs detect?
Conditions such as diabetes, severe allergies, PoTs, unexplained hypoglycaemia and blackouts are among those that the dogs can be trained to detect and alert well before their human partner is aware that an episode is about to occur.
Having these wet-nosed knights in furry armour by their side not only saves their lives but restores the lives of clients and their families. They allow them to regain their independence and achieve things they previously thought impossible because of the uncertainty of their health condition and how quickly it can take hold.
Bio Detection Dogs are trained to find even the tiniest smells associated with diseases that sadly claim the lives of millions of people each year like cancer, Parkinson’s, malaria and bacterial infections. They work on human samples in the charity’s training room which are placed in pots on the end of metal arms. They investigate each sample they are shown and when they find the odour they are looking for; they make a clear indication by stopping and sitting in front of it. For them, it is a game as they get a treat or toy reward when they find the odour. For us, it could be a gamechanger.
Helping to diagnose cancer earlier
Medical Detection Dogs’ research has shown that dogs can be trained to detect the odour and identify the signature of cancer. The charity is on the threshold of delivering an accurate, rapid, and non-invasive test to diagnose cancer at an early stage, a test that would be offered to clinicians to use alongside existing diagnostic methods.
In an exciting collaboration as part of a prostate cancer study with the world-famous Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Medical Detection Dogs is working with a quantum physicist to develop advanced technologies which will bring the power of the dogs’ nose into every doctors consulting room.
This complex progressive neurological disease affects one in every 500 people in the UK and there is currently no definitive test. Symptoms leaving patients struggling to move, speak, swallow and even breathe typically only start when more than half the relevant nerve cells in the brain have already been lost, which can be up to 20 years after the disease first occurs. The goal of Medical Detection Dogs is to develop a definitive way to diagnose Parkinson’s disease, contributing to developing earlier, more effective treatment and opening the door to further research into the cause and progression of this debilitating disease.
A scientific study with Imperial College London found that Bio Detection dogs have a very high level of accuracy when asked to identify bacteria associated with serious lung infections.
A major cause of lung damage in people with Cystic Fibrosis (CF) is infection with bacterial pathogens. The most prevalent of these is Pseudomonas aeruginosa which chronically infects around 60 per cent of the 10,000 patients in UK.
The study’s authors conclude that compared with existing technologies, dogs may ultimately prove more sensitive or more affordable for screening lower airway infection in people with CF.
The charity also plans to train dogs to detect the early signs of urinary tract infections and dangerous bacterial infections in wards and clinical areas such as C. difficile or MRSA.
In collaboration with The London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and Durham University, Medical Detection Dogs trained 4 dogs to detect the odour of malaria using socks worn for 24 hours by 400 school children in The Gambia. The dogs were successfully able to distinguish those worn by the children carrying the malaria parasite from those that did not have the disease.
If dogs can be used to readily identify malaria-infected people they could be used at ports of entry as a non-invasive, fast portable method of diagnosis and help stop the disease spreading to non-infected areas.
This year, the charity has started a project to train dogs to detect COVID-19 with the same team. The aim is that COVID-19 detection dogs will be able to passive screen, without physical contact, any individual, including those who are asymptomatic, and indicate to dog handlers whether they have detected the COVID-19 virus. This will then be confirmed by a medical test. This would be fast, effective and non-invasive, and make sure the limited NHS testing resources are only used where they are really needed.
If the research is successful, COVID-19 detection dogs could be deployed in public places. This would help prevent the second wave of the disease after we have brought the present pandemic under control and hopefully help to lift movement restrictions sooner.
Medical Detection Dogs relies on the public’s generosity and goodwill. Please help them continue with their life-changing work.
To find out more or to make a donation, please visit www.medicaldetectiondogs.org.uk.