11 June 2016

RESEARCH - Dogs May be Able to Detect Malaria in Humans

Dogs help to keep us healthy.

Beyond getting owners out for a walk, and the healing benefits of petting, dogs are a significant part of many people’s healthcare routines.

Dogs are used as service, assistance and therapy animals and there are even dogs trained to detect blood sugar levels and alert diabetic individuals of an imminent crash.

Now, dogs are also helping with another piece of the healthcare puzzle.

Following last year’s NHS approval for the use of cancer detection dogs in a medical trial, dogs’ highly sensitive noses are being turned to malaria detection.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which has focused on malaria eradication for years, has backed new research starting later in 2016 at Durham University.

The University, with Prof. Steve Lindsay leading the project, will partner with Medical Detection Dogs, the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine and the Medical Research Council Unit, the Gambia

Current malaria testing requires blood collection and lab testing, which is time intensive and costly.

If this research is fruitful, malaria dogs could detect the presence of the disease from urine and sweat samples, and could work much faster than lab testing of blood allows.

The dogs could also be used in mobile units, or at points of entry to an area, which would help increase access to testing, and treatment.

They will be sniffing for the presence of specific odours that humans produce after being infected with the malaria parasite.

Dr Claire Guest, CEO of Medical Detection Dog, an organization that specializes in training dogs for medical purposes, told The Independent, “Dogs have an extraordinary sense of smell. They can detect parts per trillion; that is equivalent to one spoon of sugar in two Olympic-sized swimming pools. In training trials, they have proven themselves to be 93 per cent reliable at detecting cancer. I feel confident they will learn to detect the odour of malaria.”

Malaria is a significant global health concern, with an estimated 214 million cases and 438,000 deaths globally in 2015.

By Tiffany Sostar
Tiffany is an animal lover who came late to her appreciation of pets. At 18, a rescue pup named Tasha saved her from a depression and she hasn't looked back. She's written for a variety of publications and facilitates writing workshops for marginalized writers. She's particularly interested in animal behaviour, and working with trauma recovery for four-legged and two-legged animals.

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