Odor Detection Dogs Are Being Trained to Sniff Out Parkinson’s Disea
We know our pooches can be walking medical marvels. Originally they astounded us with their ability to detect the scent of bladder cancer, eventually that expanded to include skin, prostate, lung, breast and colorectal cancers – all from just a breath sample. In fact, their ability to peg these diseases was presented in a 2011 study out of Japan that showed a staggering 88% accuracy when detecting breast cancer, 97% accuracy with lung cancer and for colorectal cancer they were able to detect the disease 98% of the time.
And while medical researchers are still trying to figure out exactly how they do this (it’s thought that they’re picking up on microscopic chemicals known as volatile organic compounds (VOCs)) all are keen to expand on the canine repertoire.
Such is the case with Dr. Claire Guest, Co-founder and CEO of Medical Detection Dogs in the UK who has taken on the challenge of training her detection dogs to identify Parkinson’s disease. Guest states that “every single disease causes a biochemical change in our body which results in a distinct smell”. This theory seems to be borne out by the ability of the trained dogs to pick up on the distinct odors related to different cancers.
Because there is no definitive test for Parkinson’s, the ability to use scent markers for detection is huge and means that those afflicted by this chronic, degenerative neurological disorder can be diagnosed early on with treatments started immediately to help stave off symptoms and extend quality of life.
As for the dogs trained in her detection facility, Guest says the best breeds are those that naturally love to use their nose for searching. Several came from area rescues and each goes home with staff or volunteer at night – she has a no-kennel policy. The dogs are taught to find a specific odor and when they do, they receive a reward. They are also taught to let their handler know if the smell they are seeking is not present – so no chance of picking up a mixed message.
The cost to train each pooch over a 6 month period can run approximately $9,000 USD with a further $9,000 USD to cover his costs and that of his handler, each year thereafter. While it may seem steep, when you consider the billions of dollars spent on research, medications, and hospitalizations each year, this keen-scented pooch approach really is just a drop in the bucket.
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