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Dogs Being Trained To Sniff Out Cancer, Diabetes

June 22, 2009

Dogs are now being trained in Britain to warn diabetic owners when their blood sugar levels take a dangerous plunge.

Most people know that dogs are often used in searching for illegal drugs and explosives, and a few have heard that man’s best friend has proven himself even capable of sniffing out certain cancer cells.

But now, these amazing creatures are pioneering a new frontier in diabetes care after recent evidence indicated that a dog’s hypersensitive nose can detect incredibly small changes that occur before a hypoglycemic attack.

Last December, a survey conducted by researchers at Queen’s University Belfast showed that 65% of 212 people with insulin-dependent diabetes reported their pets reacting to a hypoglycemic episode by whining, barking, licking or some other display.

At the Cancer and Bio-Detection Dogs research center in Aylesbury, southern England, animal trainers are taking advantage of this information by utilizing the dog’s skills to assist their owners.

So far, the charity has 17 rescue dogs at various levels of training that will be partnered with diabetic owners, including many children.

“Dogs have been trained to detect certain odors down to parts per trillion, so we are talking tiny, tiny amounts. Their world is really very different to ours,” Chief Executive Claire Guest told Reuters TV.

Orthopedic surgeon Dr John Hunt founded the center five years ago. His desire was to examine the strange stories reported about dogs showing a nagging curiosity to parts of their owner’s body that later proved to be cancerous.

Around the time Dr. Hunt was looking into the bizarre cases, researchers at nearby Amersham Hospital were finding the first real evidence that dogs could identify bladder cancer by detecting chemicals found in urine.

They began looking into diabetes after the case of Paul Jackson, who told Guest and her team that his dog Tinker alerts him when his sugar levels get too low and he is in danger of collapsing.

“It’s generally licking my face, panting beside me. It depends how far I have gone before he realizes,” Jackson said.

Tinker has now been trained by the Aylesbury center and is a fully qualified Diabetic Hypo-Alert dog. He even has a red jacket to announce himself as a working assistance animal.

The center will continue working to perfect dogs’ ability in noting signs of cancer. Guest admits that while it would be favorable to have a disease screening dog in every doctor’s office, it is not very practical.

However, she does hope that the research leads to inventions such as an electric nose that can mimic that of a dog.

“At the moment electronic noses are not as advanced as the dogs’, they are about 15 years behind. But the work that we are doing and what we are finding out will help scientists advance quickly so that they can use electronic noses to do the same thing,” she said.

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