A new trial which brings together leading disease control experts from universities with medical detection dogs who have already been used in training for detection in Parkinson’s disease could help to detect coronavirus in humans. The dogs are already trained to detect odours of certain cancers including malaria and Parkinson’s disease. The first phase of the trail will be led by the London School of hygiene and Tropical Medicine alongside the charity of Durham University. The innovation minister Lord Bethell had said of this initiative: “I hope the dogs could provide speedy results as part of the government’s wider testing strategy.”
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The first phase will involve NHS staff in London hospitals collecting odour samples from those infected with COVID-19 and those who are uninfected.
Samples of breath and body odour used to help the canines detect a possible infection will be sourced from a number of items including used face masks.
The trials will establish whether the dogs are able to be used in the future
to be able to detect a potential new non-invasive, early warning measure to detect coronavirus.
Researchers at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine will roll out phase one of the trial in collaboration with the charity Medical Detection Dogs and Durham University.
The hope is that these dogs will be able to detect coronavirus in humans from odour samples.
The Cure Parkinson Trust spoke of how dogs could be used to detect odours of potential new health conditions and said: “A link between a specific odour and Parkinson’s disease was first determined by a Scottish lady Joy Milne, whose incredibly keen sense of smell picked up a change in her late husband’s scent six years before he went on to develop any symptom of the disease.
“Her skills were then tested under lab conditions when she was asked to smell six used shirts from six people with Parkinson’s disease and six people in the control group.
“She stated that seven of those 12 individual had the specific “musky smell” and she was correct, as one of the control groups later went on to develop Parkinson’s.
“Now, three dogs will begin trials, sniffing the smell of 700 people to focus on the molecules people release before developing Parkinson’s.”
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The use of canines for detecting COVID-19 will look at whether the dogs, a mixture of Labradors and cocker spaniels, can be trained to detect coronavirus in people too, even if they are not showing symptoms.
It is one of a number of testing measures being explored in order to ensure the government’s response to the virus is as extensive as possible, the Department of Health stated.
The trial will explore whether the “COVID dogs” can spot the virus in humans from odour.
What the experts say
Dr Claire Guest, the charity’s co-founder, and chief executive of Medical Detection Dogs, said she was “sure our dogs will be able to find the odour of COVID-19.”
If this deems true, the dogs will then move into a “second phase to test them in live situations, following which we hope to work with other agencies to train more dogs for deployment,” she said.
Professor James Logan, from the London School of Hygiene and Topical Medicine added: “Our previous work has shown that malaria has a distinctive odour and with medical detection dogs, we successfully trained dogs to accurately detect malaria.
“This combined with the knowledge that respiratory disease can change body odour, makes us hopeful that the dogs can also detect COVID-19.”
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