Cancer detection dog at work.
I love the english tabloids, 98% of the time they contain no end of trash. If it isn’t the latest story from Katy price/Jordan depending on who she is this week. It’s a front page banner headline that Kate Middleton has morning sickness, now there may be fighting in Iraq, land slides in asia or floods in devon we get a full-page of Kate Middleton been rushed to hospital with morning sickness.
But occasionally tucked away in the middle there’ll be a shining diamond glinting out from the dross.
In the Daily Express 01 January 2013, (still can’t get used to that.) There was a wonderful article that caught my eye.
Medical detection dogs in Milton Keynes uk, a charity launched in 2008.
It’s the only centre of its kind in the world, it was founded after Claire Guest, heard an interview on BBC Radio 4 with surgeon John church.
He was asked by a listener whether animals could help human medicine.
He believed that dogs could detect Cancer and asked for anyone who thought that they would be able to train a cancer dog, to get in touch with him.
Claire who at the time was working with dogs for deaf people, contacted Mr Church and in 2003 they conducted a study together they were amazed by the results.
It appeared that a dog could be trained to detect cancer in human urine, the findings were published in 2004 it was then obvious then that this was big news.
While our brains are dominated by our visual cortex, dogs brains are dominated by the olfactory cortex or sense of smell. The olfactory bulb in a dog is about 40 times bigger than in a human. And has between 125 million and 220 million smell receptors.
Her dog, Daisy is one of the countries elite cancer detecting dogs. And three years ago Daisy successfully picked up Claire’s breast cancer.
Which medical tests later missed, Claire says she began acting strangely around me, she became anxious and kept jumping up.
They were going for a walk one day and instead of running off into the park as she usually would, daisy jumped on me and nudged Claire in the chest.
It hurt more than it should have and Claire found a small lump.
Her GP referred her for tests’ on the lump which originally came back negative, but further scans showed there was a deep-seated cancerous tumour.
“I wouldn’t have known about it till it was too late if it hadn’t been for Daisy. She saved my life.”
The key to the dogs success is early detection of cancer.
“The dogs success rates vary on grades and stages but for bladder cancer they have one dog who’s has a. Sensitivity of over 90%. Explains Claire.
As the cancer becomes more advanced the dogs become less accurate.
A team of scientists from the open university created an electronic nose which only had an accuracy of 60%.
Claire says it goes back to the way we train the dogs, you’re trying to train the dog to differentiate from any background odour.
So the dog is making a discrimination.
However as the cancer gets more advanced the background odour becomes stronger.
In the earlier stages, when the body is quite well there is a bigger distinction and the odour stands out more.
Currently the dogs are only used in laboratories, and Claire feels that it would be unethical to use the dogs directly with patients.
Instead Claire see’s the dogs work as teaching us about cancers that can be used in discovering and diagnosing cancers.
However Medical Alert Dogs (MADs) trained by Claire and her team become an active part of families.
Medical alert dogs trained to smell changes in people with conditions such as diabetes, narcolepsy and Addison’s disease, which can cause light headedness and falls these dogs are never parted from their owners.
“Someone with type 1 diabetes could have a normal blood sugar level, but within 15 minutes it could drop to dangerously low levels. The dog will smell the changes and alert the person by staring at them, nudging their hand and fetching their medical kit” says Claire
The dogs do not come cheap and the demand for them is high, so high in-fact that people have to wait nearly four years.
“The cost of selecting the dog and training the dog to recognise the odour is about £5,000 but you can easily double that when you factor in interviewing and meeting up with clients and setting them up with the dogs”
The patient breathes into a specialist filter and the captured odour is used to train the dog.
“Once we’ve taught the dog to recognise the odour not only has she learned that low blood sugar is an important odour, but also the first time she meets the client. Its like the dog already knows the person, they immediately feel bonded to the dog.” Says claire.
To help support its health work the charity also trains the dogs to sniff out bed bugs, which are currently making a comeback in the uk and the numbers are on the increase in urban areas.
One of Claire’s dogs a wire-haired Hungarian Vizsla Midas is one such dogs and has such a sensitive nose she can detect a single solitary bed bug in a room..
This trailblazing organisation is still young and any money raised from the bed bug detection side of the charity is immediately ploughed back into the training side or cancer dogs.
“We have two main objectives” says Claire “firstly to raise more funds so we can get the waiting list down for the medical alert dogs, but also to prove principles.
“We already know that dogs can detect colon, kidney and bladder cancer in urine samples but were about to embark on a new study into whether breast cancer leaves an odour in breath samples. If it does this could have a massive effect on the way we screen for breast cancer.”
Daisy is an 8 year old labrador and although I’ve never met her or her owner I have to say she does an incredible job.
If you’d be interested in finding out more about Daisy and Claire or the work they do at Medical detection dogs please visit their fantastic website.
It’s a fantastic site and well worth a visit.
Love & light
I’d like to say a massive thank-you to the daily express. And Joanna Della-Ragione for her wonderful article. Which I did get a lot of information from and indeed the work of Claire Guest and Daisy they are truly inspiring and do such a wonderful thing. Please visit their site…
Cancer detection dog taking a well deserved rest.