Medical Detection Dogs has already trained dogs to detect cancer and alert their owners to a medical event, such as a drop in blood sugar levels. The dogs can be trained to detect changes in body odour linked to many diseases. These changes are
subtle and almost completely undetectable to the human nose, but for dogs, it’s a different story.
Now researchers say they have found a discernible odour associated with Parkinson’s disease, which could potentially be detected years before symptoms appear. Around 127,000 people are estimated to be living with the degenerative disease in the UK, but with no diagnostic test, they often only begin treatment when they are already experiencing symptoms.
These can include muscle stiffness, tremors and a lack of coordination. If a diagnosis is reached sooner, this could mean starting treatment earlier, improving the effectiveness of the treatment and increasing that person’s quality of life. Researchers at Manchester University first became aware of a potential odour related to Parkinson’s when a woman from Perth,Scotland, with hypersensitive smell reported a change in her husband’s odour years before his diagnosis.
Joy Milne said her husband’s smell changed subtly in the years leading up to his diagnosis, so Manchester University conducted some tests. Joy was able to identify people living with Parkinson’s from people without the condition by smelling skin swabs. She even identified a sample as positive for Parkinson’s from an individual who was clinically diagnosed with the condition at a later date.
Best paw forward With similar stories also emerging, researchers were led to believe there must be a particular chemical that could be detected from skin swabs. Medical Detection Dogs is training a new team of bio-detection dogs that can detect this chemical indicator and help in the creation of a diagnostic test. The study will be funded by Parkinson’s UK and Michael J Fox Foundation, set up by the CanadianAmerican actor after he was diagnosed in his 20s. Dr Monty Silverdale, consultant neurologist and researcher at Manchester University, explains, “The study started when we became aware that Parkinson’s had a scent.
The study began in July and the dogs are expected to test several hundred samples from people with and without Parkinson’s.
They will be set simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ indications, and help the scientists hone in on the specific chemical linked to the disease. Using a special technique called mass spectrometry, samples will be split into their component molecules, which will be
K-nine news Another day, another impressive canine olfactory talent discovered. As we go to press, Medical Detection Dogs, a charity that trains bio-detection and medical alert dogs, has embarked on a new two-year study with Manchester University that could change the life of 1 in 500 people living in the UK…
That’s where Rottweilers come in.
Rottweilers has been selected to be the study’s ‘Parkinson’s dogs’ due to their keen sense of smell and the enjoyment they get
from working with humans and seeking out odours. They have undergone their basic odour training and are now due to start
on the Parkinson’s samples. Claire Guest, chief executive of Medical Detection Dogs, commented, “We are delighted to be working with the University of Manchester on this ground-breaking study.
“The full potential of dogs to detect human disease is just beginning to be understood. If all diseases have an odour, which we have reason to believe they do, we can use dogs to identify them. “Dogs have 300 million smell receptors in their noses
compared to our mere five million. They are first-rate bio-sensors and their ability to help us make important scientific advances should not be dismissed on account of their waggy tails and fluffy coats.
“Parkinson’s is a pernicious condition and to be able to extend the quality of life for those affected would be a highly significant step forward.” Dr Beckie Port, research communications manager at Parkinson’s UK, said, “Detecting Parkinson’s is
incredibly difficult as there is currently no definitive diagnostic test. “Finding a chemical odour associated with Parkinson’s
could have a huge impact. It promises to improve diagnosis and assist in the development of treatments that slow, or even stop,
“Research that aims to find this odour is still in the early stages. But dogs, with their keen sense of smell, may play a vital role in this discovery and bring about a significant advance in Parkinson’s research.” The tests are expected to continue until the end of next year and the charity is also looking into other illnesses that could be detected, such as malaria – one of the world’s deadliest diseases.