At its October meeting the Club welcomed Joanna Gardiner who spoke on the work of the charity Medical Detection Dogs. Established in 2008, and based in Milton Keynes, the charity successfully trains dogs to detect the odour of human disease with the aim of developing faster, more efficient and less invasive diagnostics for better patient outcomes.
The dogs are often donated by members of the public, breeders, other assistance dog charities and rescue centres. The temperament of the dog is very important as is a good sense of smell. Spaniels and labradors are commonly used. The length of time to train a bio-detection dog varies depending on the odour they are being trained to detect, the sample type they are using, and the dog itself. It typically takes 6-8 months for a dog to reach a good level of performance.
Diseases cause a biochemical change in our bodies which results in a change in odour. This has been used by physicians for centuries to inform the diagnosis and treatment of disease. Dogs typically have 300 million olfactory sensors in their nose whereas humans have about 60 million. With their incredible sense of smell dogs can detect the minute odours associated with many cancers and other diseases. Bio detection dogs are trained to detect the odour of volatile organic carbons associated with the disease present in urine, faecal, skin swabs or breath samples.
The dogs readily detect different types of cancer, Parkinson’s disease, malaria, bacterial infections and Covid. Recent studies highlight remarkable successes. The dogs are up to 94% accurate at detecting Covid (far more accurate than the lateral flow tests widely used at present) and they can detect the most lethal prostate cancers whilst differentiating between prostate cancer and other prostate diseases.
The charity also trains medical assistance dogs to identify minute odour changes emitted prior to an emergency and alert the owner to take preventative action. The dogs are currently working for people with type 1 diabetes, postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome, Addison’s disease and severe allergies. By assisting individuals with their condition, the dogs help reduce 999 calls and hospital admissions, giving people and their families carers greater confidence and independence, enabling them to lead a full and happy life. There are currently over 130 biomedical and medical alert dogs working with 45 puppies in training.