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Dog nose knows…a lot! Researchers in the UK are studying the possibility of using dogs to diagnose Parkinson’s disease.
We know our homes can walk medicinal wonders. At first they amazed us with their ability to smell bladder cancer, which eventually expanded to include melanoma, prostate, lung, breast, and colorectal cancer — all from just a breath sample. In fact, their ability to link these diseases was shown in a 2011 study from Japan that showed an amazing 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 though medical researchers are still trying to figure out exactly how to do this (they’re thought to capture microscopic chemicals known as volatile organic compounds (VOCs)), they’re all eager to expand on the canine repertoire.
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Such is the case with Dr Claire Guest, co-founder and CEO of Medical Detection Dogs UK who took up the challenge of training her detection dogs to identify Parkinson’s disease. Guest says that “every disease causes a biochemical change in our body that results in a distinctive odor.” This theory appears to have been demonstrated by the ability of trained dogs to pick up on the distinct odors associated with different types of cancer.
Because there is no definitive test for Parkinson’s disease, the ability to use scent markers in detection is very large and means that people with this chronic neurodegenerative disorder can be diagnosed early with treatment started promptly to help avert symptoms and extend quality of life.
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As for the dogs trained in their detection facility, Guest says the best breeds are the ones that like to naturally use their nose to search. Many of them came from area rescues and each went home with staff or volunteers for the night – and it has a no dog policy. Dogs are taught to find a specific scent and when they do, they get a reward. They are also taught to let their handler know if the scent they are looking for is not there – so there is no chance of picking up a mixed message.
The cost to train each dog over a 6-month period can be around $9,000 with an additional $9,000 to cover his and his treatment costs each year after that. While it may sound steep, when you consider the billions of dollars spent on research, medicine, and hospitals each year, this popular approach to canine exercise is really just a drop in the bucket.