Local hospitals aid with sniffer-dog Covid-19 trial

The Research team at Doncaster and Bassetlaw Teaching Hospitals (DBTH) are working with volunteers to help with a ground-breaking project which, if successful, will aid in the detection of Covid-19 using specially trained sniffer-dogs.

A national study – led by the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, in collaboration with Medical Detection Dogs and Durham University – the scheme aims to see if quick and effective diagnosis of Coronavirus can be achieved with the assistance of a keen canine nose. If successful, the application of the project could revolutionise the detection of the disease, helping to further minimise cases of the disease in the country.

Dogs have an incredible sense of smell which far surpasses our own. This, combined with their keen ability to learn, makes our furry companions one of the world’s greatest biosensors capable of detecting various forms of contraband as well as food odours. As such, they are widely used in the field of public health, where they can identify small changes in the human body, like cancer, fluctuations in blood sugar levels and even imminent seizures.

Scientists are now theorising that we may be able to use these canine helpers to detect cases of Covid-19. Once trained, the sniffer dogs could be deployed in ports of entry or to any public space (like they would in an airport) to provide rapid, non-invasive screening for the virus.

To support the research project, the team are currently working with volunteers within the Trust, with an ambition to look further afield as they progress with the study.  Those taking part must be above 16, have never tested positive for Covid-19 and are willing to wear a mask, nylon socks and a shirt for a number of hours, which, complete with all useful odours pleasant or otherwise, are then carefully packaged and sent onwards for the attention of the nostrils of the Covid-busting pups.

In early September, the Trust’s first participant sent off their samples for the attention of the canine team, with over 40 individuals having since signed up to take part.

Dr Alasdair Strachan, Director of Education and Research at Doncaster and Bassetlaw Teaching Hospitals, said: “This is an incredibly exciting and novel research project to be involved in which could have profound application in the fight against Covid-19.

“Research and Development is incredibly important within the NHS, and this has only been highlighted further during the current challenges of the global pandemic. As a Trust, our team have contributed to a number of projects including drug trials, aiding in the national efforts against Covid-19. I would encourage any and all of our patients to discuss research with our clinicians, and whether or not they could get involved in a related project during the course of their care and treatment.”

In June, the Trust’s Research and Development team were part of a successful Oxford University trial which studied dexamethasone and the benefits it provides to high risk patients receiving oxygen, following treatment for Covid-19.

You can find out more about the current Covid-19 detection project here, as well as meet the six sniffer dogs currently being trained, here: https://www.medicaldetectiondogs.org.uk/covid-19-detection-dogs/ meet-the-dogs/